Veterans & Mental Illness

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An estimated 15 percent of those who saw combat in the Vietnam War were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1980. An estimated 15 percent more were assumed to have had PTSD at some point in their life without having been diagnosed–that brings the total to about 30 out of every 100 Vietnam War veterans who suffer or suffered from PTSD.

The atrocities and horrors of the Vietnam War are well publicized, often written about and very commonly known. However PTSD didn’t stop after Vietnam. About 12 percent of Gulf War vets had PTSD in any given year. More recently, Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have caused roughly 11-20 percent of their combatants to suffer from PTSD symptoms.

Simply put, PTSD runs rampant throughout the military. It’s a problem that veterans–and non-veterans, as the civilian population are diagnosed at about a 7-8 percent rate–have struggled with for decades.

All cases of PTSD are not the same, however. As it stands now, there are three varieties of PTSD that can manifest themselves within a person who has experienced large-scale trauma in their life. According to the National Institute of Health, the types of PTSD are determined largely by the time frame before the symptoms set in, and the duration. Acute PTSD occurs when symptoms last fewer than three months, while anything longer than three months is considered chronic PTSD. If the periods between the trauma occurring and symptoms setting in is longer than six months, it is considered to be delayed-onset PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is, in a word, debilitating. The range of symptoms from the disorder is expansive, ranging from severe panic and anxiety attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, mental confusion and fatigue, and depression. The horrors and negative effects don’t end there, either, as an estimated 80 percent of those with PTSD also suffer from at least one other disorder including but not limited to major depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse.

In a cruel and tragic twist of fate, however, the soldiers aren’t the only ones affected when diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The family and friends of the PTSD-stricken individual are often affected and rarely seen as needing help or aid.

Research has shown that Vietnam War veterans who suffer from PTSD are more prone to watching their families fall apart in front of their eyes as violence, the need for intensive and almost round-the-clock care and the stress can drive families apart.

The care for someone with PTSD can differ greatly case to case. With severe and chronic cases of PTSD the level of care and attention required from family members can take a noticeable toll on the carer him or herself. When one is putting so much time, effort and love into the care of a loved one, they can begin to neglect their own needs, whether those are mental, emotional or otherwise. It is important in these cases to ensure that all parties are adequately cared for, including yourself, when helping out a family member or friend with their PTSD care.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is all too common in members of the military and wartime veterans. By educating yourself on the causes and symptoms of the debilitating disorder, you can come one step closer towards helping those stricken with PTSD live happy, normal and healthy lives.