Helping Soldiers Cope With PTSD
Written by Army Pfc. Daniel M. Rangel 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Thousands of Servicemembers are returning home this spring. As they return to their regular lives, reintegration with their friends and loved ones can be a challenge; especially for those suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
â€œPTSD can occur after any kind of trauma,â€ said Air Force Dr. (Maj.) Kellie Griffith, Task Force MED psychiatrist at the Combat and Operational Stress Control Clinic here.
The three primary symptoms of PTSD are: re-experiencing, where one relives a traumatic event through nightmares, flashbacks or intrusive images; hyper-vigilance, which includes irritability and jumpiness; and avoidance, not wanting to think about the trauma again and doing anything to avoid it, Griffith said.
Another common symptom is whatâ€™s called sense of a foreshortened future. Itâ€™s the belief that the future is not going to work out, like somehow itâ€™s going to be cut short.
Griffith confirmed the scope of those needing help stretches across the ranks.
â€œPeople will feel that since theyâ€™re a platoon leader they should have their stuff together. They feel like they canâ€™t come in there, that itâ€™s showing that theyâ€™re weak, that nobody else in their unit is seeking help. Thatâ€™s not true,â€ Griffith said. â€œIâ€™ve seen everybody from all different ranks come on in here.â€
Often Servicemembers are hesitant to seek help fearing possible professional retribution, but of those seeking help, treatment affects the careers of less than 5 percent of Servicemembers, according to Griffith.
Any questionnaire for future military employment divulging your mental-health history will be sent to a health care professional such as a flight surgeon for review, Griffith said.
â€œYou should be judged by a mental-health provider as opposed to just some random person who may or may not be a fan of mental-health treatment,â€ she said.
Plans to cope with PTSD include combinations of therapy, sleep medication and medication specifically for PTSD.
â€œThe gold standard of therapy is exposure therapy,â€ Griffith said. â€œThe concept behind PTSD is that in your brain you have normal memories and you have abnormal memories â€” traumatic memories. The normal memories are stored in such a way that theyâ€™re filed away appropriately. They donâ€™t intrude upon your day-to-day life. Traumatic memories are more like theyâ€™re hanging around your neck. They can come up and intrude upon your day-to-day life at any moment.
â€œExposure therapy seeks to bring up the memory, have you look at it, have you remember what youâ€™re able to tolerate â€¦ face it, [realize] itâ€™s not going to kill you. Itâ€™s not going to make it happen all over again,â€ Griffith said. â€œEventually, patients get to a point where it is better filed, it is more likely to just stay in their brain and not intrude upon their day-to-day life.â€
Griffith warns of the futility of self-medicating after returning home.
â€œIf people [have avoidance type symptoms] a lot of times theyâ€™ll start drinking more. Theyâ€™ll drink to sleep; theyâ€™ll drink to feel numb. Well, alcohol is actually a depressant,â€ Griffith said. â€œEven though you drink the first couple of drinks and feel kind of loopy, feel kind of good, overall itâ€™s a depressant. Itâ€™s not getting those memories filed away any better.â€
Confronting the issues with those who have endured similar problems is far more effective for reducing symptoms, Griffith recommended.
â€œI encourage people to continue to talk with people from their unit, especially people who have been through the traumatic events with them,â€ Griffith said.
Not only do mental-health professionals encourage Servicemembers to proactively deal with their issues and those of their battle buddies, itâ€™s the guidance from the senior leadership of Combined Joint Task Force-82.
â€œThe battle buddy is going to be the most important part of the chain,â€ said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, 82nd Airborne Division senior enlisted Soldier.
Everyone returning from deployment will have issues reintegrating, which is normal, but Capel draws the line of where Soldiers and their buddies must seek help.
â€œWe [define] post-traumatic stress as issues that individuals canâ€™t deal with on their own,â€ Capel said.
Keeping combat stress to a minimum is a by-product of Capelâ€™s overall leadership method.
â€œAdditional stress comes in depending upon what type of environment we operate,â€ Capel said. â€œIf youâ€™re in a well-trained, well-disciplined unit, your battle fatigue is going to be low because you know for a fact that any enemy you go up against, youâ€™re going to take them out.â€
â€œNobody here is trying to fire anybody for going to see mental hygiene or get help because theyâ€™re suffering from some type of post-traumatic stress â€” nobody,â€ Capel said.
For Soldiers dealing with symptoms of PTSD there is a pre-screening program in place to determine an individualâ€™s stress levels at the Armyâ€™s Medical Protection System through Army Knowledge Online Web site. Soldiers must complete the screening before returning home.
Capel recognizes all Soldiers returning home after such a long deployment will deal with issues but believes things will return to normal before long.
â€œFifteen-month deployments almost broke everybody down to their knees, but guess what â€” itâ€™ll go away, and weâ€™re dealing with it,â€ Capel said. â€œAs we stand here now with about 30 days to go you see a smile on a lot of peoplesâ€™ faces â€¦ and as for those depression stages, they wonâ€™t last long.â€
For thousands of Soldiers, reintegration will be a challenge, but now there is a system in place to help troops cope with their problems and begin their lives back home again.
Table of contents for PTSD
- Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- PTSD, Mild TBI Chain Teaching Begins at Pentagon
- Treatments for PTSD
- Who Is Major Gamal Awad – Surprising Answers
- Victory Clinic Combats Stress, Anxiety
- Dealing With Brain Injuries
- Battlemind training
- A Woman on a Mission
- Helping Soldiers Cope With PTSD
- Purple Heart for PTSD?
- Little Miracles in Treating Combat Stress
- Americaâ€™s Heroes at Work
- SEALs Spearhead Resiliency Program
- Elmendorf Medics Treat TBI Victims
- Combatting Stress in Iraq
- More on Army Suicide Prevention
- New PTSD Program at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center
- Soldier conquors suicide thoughts
- Marines go to the dogs
- Progress in the Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Fort Hood massacre survivors cope in Iraq
- National Naval Medical Center’s psychological health – traumatic brain injury team
- One Airman’s PTSD Story
This entry was posted on Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at 10:00 am and is filed under Medicine, Military. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.