Veterans Day and PTSD: Mental Health Spotlight

Veterans Day, November 11, 2020, is a day dedicated to honoring the brave men and women who have served in the military to protect our country and our people. This historic, patriotic day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, which was the first anniversary of the end of World War I. These heroic men and women spend time away from their friends and family and often risk their lives and mental health to protect their country and freedom. Upon returning home to U.S. soil, every soldier comes back a changed person. They learn the importance of work ethic, discipline, bravery, hardship, and challenging lessons such as death, poverty, violence, and terrorism. As a result, mental health is often compromised. Unfortunately, veterans and PTSD go hand in hand.

 

“It’s about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It’s about making sure they have the care they need and the benefits that they’ve earned when they come home. It’s about serving all of you as well as you’ve served the United States of America.”

– Barack Obama

Veterans and PTSD

  • Thirty percent of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition requiring treatment – approximately 730,000 men and women, with many experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression.
  • Less than 50 percent of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment.
  • The Veterans Administration reports that approximately 22 veterans die by suicide every day.
  • Lengths of deployments are associated with more emotional difficulties among military children and more mental health problems among U.S. Army wives.
  • Most cases of PTSD are caused by combat. Veterans may also develop the disorder after sexual abuse. About 23 percent of female veterans have reported being sexually assaulted during their time in the military.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that involves severe anxiety, fear, flashbacks, and negative thoughts after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic, life-threatening event.

  • Persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event via dreams, perceptions, images, hallucinations, or flashbacks.
  • Avoidance of triggers such as people, places, thoughts, and feelings that were associated with the traumatic event.
  • Feelings of detachment, negative self-esteem, negative emotional states, and the inability to remember associated events.
  • Marked changes in arousal and activity such as irritable behavior, hypervigilance, increased arousal, reckless behavior, sleep disturbance, and concentration problems.
  • Children with PTSD may exhibit social withdrawal, parent attachment, excessive clinging, nightmares, and poor academic performance, whereas adolescents generally display the same signs and symptoms as adults.

PTSD and addiction

More than 20 percent of veterans with PTSD also struggle with substance use disorders. Often, for both veterans and civilians alike, alcohol and drugs are used as a crutch to cover up negative emotions or temporarily erase any harmful memories. Any reminders of the past traumatic events often trigger PTSD symptoms, and as a result, many veterans will turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and numb their pain. The stress of training, deployment, and returning home can increase addiction among veterans. Those with multiple deployments, combat exposure, and combat-related injuries are at the most significant risk of developing substance use problems and PTSD. Many health professionals will often prescribe sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines (Xanax) to help relieve anxiety or any distressing thoughts. These medications can still be highly addictive, especially in populations using them as an emotional crutch. Additionally, it is not uncommon for veterans to have chronic injuries related to war, and as a result, opioid medications are often prescribed to help with any lingering physical pain. Although opioids may be necessary for some serious injuries, they are often overprescribed and are known to have serious addiction potential.

 

Why first veterans are less likely to seek help for PTSD

Veterans generally operate in a culture that seeks to uphold an image of invincibility. They are the unsung heroes of society, and therefore upholding this image is a defense mechanism for dealing with the stressors and traumas they encounter on the battlefield. Admitting that there are cracks in their “invincible” armor can seem counterproductive and can undermine the confidence necessary to do their job effectively and safely. After all, stress and trauma is part of their job. Unfortunately, there is a strong sense of fear that any admission of a veteran struggling with PTSD or addiction symptoms will potentially be seen by others as proof that they are just not up to the job. That can be terrifying to contemplate for veterans, who tend to see their work as not merely an occupation but as their identity.

 

Seeking help for veterans and PTSD

Our veterans deserve the utmost care and compassion upon returning home. They fight for our freedom while putting their lives at risk and spending time away from their loved ones. Treatment for PTSD is a multifactorial approach that combines an array of trauma therapy combined with medication. If there is a substance use disorder, it should also be treated simultaneously with PTSD. Depending on the specific addiction, medications can be used to help wean the soldier off the addictive substance. Quest2Recovery prides itself on its ability to treat veterans and first responders who struggle with mental health and/or substance use disorders. The safest way to beat addiction and trauma-related disorders is to seek professional help that offers medical attention and emotional support on your journey to recovery.

 

At Quest 2 Recovery, our mission is to assist veterans who are struggling with substance abuse and trauma-related disorders by recognizing the disease of addiction and overcoming substance abuse and trauma, emphasizing how it plays a role in their daily living. To achieve this objective, we offer a range of treatment services from detoxification and trauma-focused CBT to residential treatment in a safe, comfortable environment. Our caring and compassionate team of professionals help clients increase their motivation to change while teaching skills and strategies to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety and healthy coping