When talking about service-connected disabilities and traumas, many people often first think of PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that anyone – not only service men and women – can develop at any age after experiencing or merely witnessing something life-threatening such as combat, natural disasters, or catastrophic accidents.
Symptoms of PTSD can be severe and can interfere with day-to-day life. While it is normal for someone who has experienced traumatic events to experience flashbacks, negative thoughts, or trouble readjusting to their daily routine, if symptoms last months, it may be indicative of something more serious.
According to the National Center for PTSD: “there are four types of PTSD symptoms” and they present differently in every person with PTSD:
- Reliving the event through nightmares or flashbacks. These can be brought on by various triggers that are specific to each person whether a smell, sound, or sight.
- Avoiding triggering situations. You may work to avoid things or places that make you feel threatened or triggered such as movies with reenactments, driving, or large crowds.
- Developing negative beliefs and feelings toward others, or struggling to develop trust in the world or people around you.
- Hyperarousal or experiencing trouble concentrating, thinking, or scanning the room.
Though the conversation about PTSD awareness is incredibly valuable, it is often limited to servicemen coming home from combat. People often picture wounded warriors coming home from war with combat-related trauma, but often left out of the narrative are the women, especially women who leave their time in the service with PTSD as a result of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
MST is a sexual assault or situation of repeated sexual harassment that takes place during military service and has been found to be directly linked with an increased occurrence of PTSD. Women veterans are experiencing PTSD at similar rates to their male counterparts. Of PTSD disability seeking female veterans, 71 percent reported an occurrence of MST.
While women are not the only ones experiencing MST, they make up only 14 percent of the military and experience MST at a rate 5x more than males. Nearly a quarter of women who serve in the military will experience MST during their time in service.
Regardless of the root cause of PTSD, it is a pervasive issue that our service men and women are facing at a staggering rate. Upwards of 20 percent of veterans engaged in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom return home each year with PTSD, that’s nearly 300,000 veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD is linked to additional mental and physical health issues such as chronic pain, substance abuse, anxiety, major depressive disorder, and an increased risk of suicidality. Veterans now make up 20 percent of all suicides.
Though PTSD is not the only service-connected health issue, it is a pervasive one that continues to affect more and more of our service men and women. This June, help me bring awareness to PTSD to continue to bolster support for those affected.
Learn more about PTSD by visiting the National Center for PTSD. Learn about suicide prevention and how to support a friend or loved-one in crisis. Get involved in one of the daily events for PTSD awareness month. Or, take on the project of hosting your own event within your community using one of these ideas.