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The Invisible Reality of PTSD

Once we get past Trick or Treat on Main tonight and the main event of Halloween tomorrow, we march forward into a month of giving thanks, most notably the Thanksgiving holiday itself. However, in less than 2 weeks our country will also give thanks and honor to our U.S. servicemen and women for their dedication and sacrifices. One of the often overlooked sacrifices Veterans face and that many of us take for granted is one’s personal sense of safety. To be clear, I’m not referring to the personal safety that they sacrifice in the moment, abroad, during deployments. Rather, I’m speaking specifically about the emotional aftermath that they face long after they return home to “safety”. For a large number of Veterans, the experience of safety becomes a fleeting memory, a lasting and disruptive reminder of experiences they’d rather forget.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an invisible but all too common result of the horrors experienced or witnessed by our military personnel. However, for anyone reading this, it’s important to note that it’s also not uncommon in the general population, with approximately 1 in 12 people suffering from PTSD following experiences of serious accidents, natural disasters, and experiencing or witnessing violence.

According to the 2014 Wounded Warrior Project® Survey, 75.2% of participating military alumni reported post-traumatic stress disorder. The most commonly reported injuries and health problems were:

  • sleep problems,

  • post-traumatic stress disorder

  • back, neck, or shoulder problems

  • depression

  • anxiety

In the study, more than two-thirds of alumni had a military experience that was so frightening or upsetting that they have not been able to escape from memories or effects of it over the past month. These intrusive thoughts and memories are hallmark of PTSD, which is currently defined by the DSM-5 as the following when lasting more than one month:

  • Exposure (directly, as witness, indirectly or via repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details) to trauma in the form of death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence

  • Intrusive Symptoms, meaning repeated, involuntary thoughts and memories; nightmares; flashbacks; intense reactivity to trauma reminders/triggers; strong physiological responses

  • Avoidance Symptoms, meaning purposeful avoidance of trauma-related thoughts, memories, people or other triggers

  • Negative Alterations in Thoughts and Mood following the traumatic event(s) such as difficulty recalling aspects of the event, difficulty feeling positive feelings, feeling detached from others, persistent and distorted feelings and thoughts related to the event

Note that one does not need to have experienced a physical injury to develop PTSD, hence the “invisible” nature of the PTSD wound. Nor is it a sign of weakness, with increasing research demonstrating the changing effects of trauma on the brain. And there is hope for those with PTSD: several therapeutic models such as Cognitive Processing, EMDR and medication.

For more information about PTSD, check out the following resources:

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