When The War Comes Home: Living With PTSD

As this Memorial Day Weekend arrives, many of us have plans for the holiday. There will be graduations … cookouts … and vacations. Flags will flutter in the breeze. Countless parades and ceremonies will honor those who have died, while serving in our Armed Forces. Speeches will recall the many acts of valor. And patriotism will surely swell in our hearts. If you have a loved one in uniform, it’s blessed relief to just embrace them on U.S. soil. Most of us can relate to that moment. We have been there, with a loved one. We know the joy. They’re home. They’re safe and sound. But for many vets, the war comes home with them. And it stays … for months … even years. It becomes a way of life that requires courage and tenacity. 

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been known by a variety of names, over the years. Once thought to be solely combat-related, we now know that individuals who have never served in the military can have the illness too. PTSD may develop after any terrifying ordeal that involves physical harm, the threat of harm, or even witnessing it happening to someone else.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder strikes, indiscriminately –regardless of age, race, or gender. Over 7M Americans live with the diagnosis. But this isn’t an illness confined to one country. It’s global.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the statistics for PTSD vary from one war/conflict to the next. Almost 31% of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The number drops among those who served in the Gulf War (Desert Storm) to 10% and rises slightly among Afghanistan veterans (11%). Around 20% of Iraqi War veterans have been diagnosed. Still there appears to be no way to gauge who, or how many, will be affected. One might even call PTSD an expected casualty. Those who have been diagnosed are brave, well-trained vets. They have served our nation. They did their duty, honorably. But when they returned home, the war came with them. It wasn’t planned that way, or wanted. Yet, that is the reality. And PTSD can be accompanied by additional illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, substance abuse.

Patients who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know the symptoms, all too well. The more common ones are nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, etc. They may sometimes feel on edge, too. It’s common for them to often avoid situations or places that remind them of what they experienced. It is a way of coping. Knowing what triggers their PTSD symptoms is important, i.e. fireworks. Think of it like a diabetic avoiding the foods that spike their sugar levels. PTSD patients, like a diabetic, are managing their condition.  

Some Post Traumatic Stress patients have relationship problems. Their symptoms can cause issues with trust, closeness, communication, sometimes even problem solving. Others have no difficulty in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. They’re rather good at it. As with any illness, no two PTSD patients are alike. 

If your loved one has PTSD, then you have probably established a good support system. If not, you should encourage them to do so. Some may want to join a Peer Support Group. These groups are accessible, nationwide.  Most meet in person, but some do so online. Those who live with PTSD need to stay connected to family and friends. They need to talk openly and honestly about their illness, as well as their feelings. All we have to do is be there and listen. Support systems are vital to anyone living with a Chronic illness. That includes Post Traumatic Stress. It enables them to enjoy life … relax … have fun … and live each day to the fullest. In other words, it’s healthy!

There are some negative stigmas that society has attached to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wish that I could say otherwise, but it happens with most chronic illnesses. This one isn’t immune. When people are uninformed, they react differently. Sometimes, they even react badly. It happens. That’s why facts and awareness are key. PTSD is a medical condition. It’s just that simple.

Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shouldn’t be defined by their illness. They have many strengths, i.e. leadership abilities, creativity, job skills, etc. The more you know, the more surprised you may be by their accomplishments. These individuals are our sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, husbands, volunteers, neighbors and friends. They make positive contributions to our society as artists, journalists, authors, nurses, doctors, teachers, businessmen, businesswomen, etc. There are athletes, in the mix. First Responders and passionate activists are there, too. You’ll even find individuals with PTSD sitting in elected office. Thank you to all of them. Their perseverance is part of what makes America the resilient, steadfast nation that it has always been. May God bless each and every one of them.

 

Reference Links:

https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-ptsd-triggers#1

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/ptsd-and-relationships.asp

https://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4un68cCZ2wIVCdbACh0FOA0rEAAYASAAEgJ9q_D_BwE

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/community/ptsd-work-and-community.asp

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/peer_support_groups.asp

https://www.barendspsychology.com/mental-disorders-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-statistics/

* Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

 

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We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

Mental Health America is a non-profit that is dedicated to the needs of those with Mental illness and their families. While you may have not heard of them, the organization was founded in 1909. For over 65 years, they have turned the month of May into a time of awareness. With over 200 affiliates in 41 states, MHA is a hardworking national as well as grassroots advocacy. And the need is real.

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Unlike other Chronic illnesses, Mental illness is more difficult to diagnose. There is no simple blood-test, or x-ray. But strides have been made in the process, with the help of modern neuroimaging and genetics. Scientists today are working to uncover the biological keys of mental disorders. And the more that we learn … the more we can help patients to lead better lives. Healthier ones.

If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, this should be something to applaud and pray for. No matter the initial diagnosis, i.e. Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., many chronically ill patients [at one time or another] will also be diagnosed with Depression and/or Anxiety. Setbacks can take a toll — physically, emotionally & mentally. Such forms of Mental illness can often be like that uninvited house-guest and much more troubling. Overcoming one becomes a separate struggle in itself — a difficult complication. Often times, an overwhelming one. 

Chronically Mentally Ill is a medical (and legal) term for a patient who has been diagnosed with a major mental disorder by a licensed physician, i.e. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, etc. Their illness has led to at least one hospitalization. It impairs their ability to work, their relationships, their thinking and their mood. 

The prevalence of Mental illness in American society isn’t a myth. It isn’t an issue that we can afford to avoid. From the Christian perspective, we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9, NIV). God challenges us to think of others and not just ourselves. For those less devout, consider the numbers involved. Approximately, 1 in 5 adults struggle with a form of Mental illness. That’s over 48M people. And 1 in 25 adults, roughly 9M, live with a serious Mental illness. Over 20% of our youth experience a severe Mental disorder, at some point in their lives. 

From the social standpoint, 26% of America’s homeless are living on the streets with a serious Mental illness. About 46% live with a severe Mental illness or substance use disorder. If they are lucky, they are able to find refuge in a shelter. If that shelter has an on-site clinic, they can get the medical attention that they need. But, often times, these individuals receive little help — becoming recipients of sporadic, revolving-door healthcare. Just over 50% of America’s children, ages 8-15, received mental health services last year. Did you know that half of all Chronic Mental illness presents itself by the age of 14? Three-fourths will show symptoms, by age 24. And, unfortunately, long delays can exist in treatment. This isn’t uncommon, no matter the socioeconomic factors involved. Years, sometimes decades, can pass from the time symptoms first appear until medical treatment is actually received.

As a result, Mental illness costs America over $190B in lost earnings each year. Approximately 37% of students with a Mental health condition, who are being served by Special Education will drop-out (ages 14-21). Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death. More than 90% of children who die from suicide suffer from a form of Mental illness. It’s also estimated that we are losing 18-22 military veterans every day to suicide. Most mentally ill patients are not violent. That noted, 3-5% of all violence — including those where firearms are used — can be attributed to serious mental illness. These facts cannot be ignored. The loss … the pain … endured by patients and families is really immeasurable. The loss to our society goes without saying. These patients/families need our  support. We are facing a crisis that, left unattended, will surely worsen. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It isn’t the time to look the other way, or pretend that the facts do not exist. It isn’t the time to try and convince yourself that this “problem” doesn’t concern you. We are all in this journey called life, together. Now is the time to embrace the statistics … look in the mirror … and ask, “How can I make a difference?”

 

Reference Links:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/about-us

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/roots.aspx

https://definitions.uslegal.com/c/chronically-mentally-ill/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/chronic-mental-illnesses

https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Images/FactSheets/Bipolar-Disorder-FS.pdf

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218235/

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

http://www.amhca.org/blogs/joel-miller/2017/10/03/gun-violence-and-mental-illnessmyths-and-evidence-based-facts

* Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash