ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — Most people are aware of the terms “shell shock”, or “battle fatigue”, and they invariably conjure up a vision of a Soldier or other military service member who is traumatized by something that occurred in combat. While that is a plausible scenario, today the terms used above are relegated to the history books, as is the idea that trauma only happens to those in combat.
June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day, a time to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, focusing on what it is, and urging people to seek help, for themselves or for someone they feel is suffering from it.
A study by the Department of Veterans Affairs illustrates the vulnerability of veterans to developing PTSD. It notes that since veterans are more likely to be exposed to a traumatic event, their risk for developing PTSD is higher.
Statistics from the National Center for PTSD show that this development of PTSD in veterans varies by service era. About 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. This is compared to 12% of veterans of the Gulf War, and an estimated 30% of veterans of the Vietnam War.
The National Center for PTSD also cites that those suffering from PTSD are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than the general population. For veterans, more than 20% of those with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.
Another comorbidity of PTSD is the prevalence of suicide. The Costs of War Project — an interdisciplinary research project by Brown University — estimates 30,177 Global War on Terror veterans have died by suicide, compared to 7,057 who have died while deployed in support of the Global War on Terror.
The Department of Defense Annual Suicide report, published in September 2021, cited that in calendar year 2020 alone there were 580 service members who tragically died by suicide.
But it’s not just service members, or veterans, who experience PTSD. Unfortunately, suicide is common for all PTSD sufferers. An article published by the National Center for PTSD cited two studies which showed that people with PTSD had 13 times the rate of suicide than those without PTSD.
“It is now known to affect not just military veterans,” said U.S. Army Sustainment Command Health, Wellness and Resiliency specialist Dr. Joy Summerlin. “But anyone who has gone through an intense traumatic experience."
“Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include physical or sexual assault, war-related combat stress, terrorism, natural or man-made disasters, and other threats on a person’s life.”
Summerlin said people with PTSD often suffer from depression, negative thoughts, and impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
She said statistics from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veteran Affairs show that 70% of adults in the U.S. — military and non-military — have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. This equates to approximately 223.4 million people. More than 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. As of today, that means that up to 45 million people have struggled with, or are struggling with, PTSD.
“Typical symptoms of PTSD include distressing dreams, persistent thoughts and recurring flashbacks about the traumatic event or events, numbing or avoidance of memories of the trauma, triggered emotional responses, and persistent hyper-arousal,” she added.
PTSD can be very complicated, because not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD, and the symptoms are often unique to the individual. But help is available.
“PTSD is treatable with a trained mental health professional,” Summerlin said. “There is no way to cure PTSD, though there is a growing body of techniques to help manage these conditions, including psychotherapy, exercise therapy, service animals, and more.”
Summerlin said even though PTSD treatments work, most people who have PTSD don't get the help they need.
“Everyone with PTSD, whether they are veterans or civilian survivors of sexual assault, serious accidents, natural disasters or other traumatic events, needs to know that treatments really do work and can lead to a better quality of life.”
A national PTSD Awareness Day came about through the efforts of former North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad. He pushed for a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD. Biel took his own life after his return from duty to his home state. Staff Sgt. Biel’s birthday, June 27, was selected as the official PTSD Awareness Day, which is now observed every year.
PTSD Awareness Day aims to raise public awareness about the disorder, educate a wide audience about PTSD, and provide people affected by PTSD with access to proper treatment.
For 24/7 access to information and support, please visit Military OneSource.
Service members and veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a service member or veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans/Military Crisis Line for confidential support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call (800) 273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line — text HELLO to 741741. Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.
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