Dispelling the Myths of PTSD

Stephen L Dalton

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The Global War on Terrorism has enlightened the world to the problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it is not just a combat Veterans’ disorder.

As a First Sergeant in the US Army with 28 years of service, I witnessed many PTSD incidents both diagnosed and suspected.

Leaders at all levels, military and civilian, should avoid making diagnoses about PTSD without consulting medical personnel. Even experienced medical personnel find it challenging to diagnose accurately.

I remember one such first-line supervisor I had to correct because he told me one of his Soldiers was faking PTSD to get out of work. He said, “He’s full of shit, First Sergeant, he probably never even saw combat.”

He was shocked to learn that not all PTSD is combat-related. I told him to immediately get the Soldier an appointment at mental health and never “diagnose” a Soldier again until he got a medical degree.

PTSD Causes & High-Risk Professions

Although combat and its devastation strikes fear into even the strongest men and women, it is not the only contributor to PTSD.

Even though most men who suffer PTSD are combat Veterans and most women who experience PTSD are rape victims, those are only two risk factors.

Other risk factors and the personnel in high-risk professions may include:

· Home intrusion
· Military member
· Robbery victim
· Vehicle accidents
· Child abuse
· Sexual assault & Rape victims
· Law enforcement
· Medical personnel
· First responders
· Any life-threatening event

Whatever the cause, the traumatic event is often replayed in the victims’ minds over and over. It is not only the victim who may be affected, but witnesses, family members, and emergency medical personnel, as well.

Many in high-risk professions who have difficulty dealing with PTSD are often seen as weak. This myth is not the case, typically. There are many risks and factors associated with PTSD.

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An Iraq Veteran's True Life Story

There was a senior enlisted Soldier, with 18 and ½ years of service, in my company who couldn’t wait the year and a half for retirement. Everyone thought him crazy because he just wanted out of the Army even if it cost him his retirement pension.

He was a big man, 6’5” tall, and about 240 pounds, who sat in my office and cried like a little baby when he told me the story. I must admit I had to wipe away tears a couple of times too.

He was in Iraq on a communications mission. That day, he was taking food to his Soldiers at a remote radio-retransmission site. He had three Soldiers with him (one was his love interest) in the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, routinely called a HUMVEE, when he had to urinate. He told the driver to pull over.

Since there was a female Soldier on board, he went as far away from the vehicle as possible so he wouldn’t be seen. He heard the explosion as he stood there urinating and turned to see bodies flying through the air.

As the tears flowed freely down his face, he said, “I can no longer piss standing up, it just won’t work.”

I got him into therapy and assigned another senior non-com as his battle buddy (someone that goes everywhere you go and often becomes a friend and confidant). Unfortunately, even though he told me he was doing much better, we had to hospitalize him because the therapist said he was a threat to himself.

It took almost eight months to process the paperwork to get him a medical retirement. The day he left, he told me I probably saved his life. But within three months, he was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Don’t Ever Try to Self-Diagnose or Diagnose Someone Else

You have no idea. Leave that to trained professionals. Even though some of them have no idea either.

How anyone deals with a traumatic event depends significantly on the individual’s history and hereditary factors. Veterans are part of a large group at serious risk of suicide, an average of 22 per day, primarily due to the perpetuation of the myth that their inability to deal with PTSD is a weakness.

Because of this myth, many refuse to seek help believing they have to show everyone they can deal with it on their own. This is particularly true of Soldiers, Non-Coms, and Commissioned Officers with a Security Clearance. Many fear losing their clearance because if they seek help, they could be labeled "unstable." It’s a two-headed coin with sharp edges.

Additionally, many Veterans who thought that returning home to familiar surroundings would alleviate many memories discovered everything had changed at home, but the memories linger.

Many victims of sexual assault or abuse find it difficult to "warm-up" to a love interest. The fear of being controlled or manipulated makes it impossible to feel close even to those they love without first getting therapy to dispel the nightmares. It sometimes requires years of therapy just to feel "normal."

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Definition

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), “PTSD is characterized by the persistence of intense reactions to reminders of a traumatic event, altered mood, a sense of imminent threat, disturbed sleep, and hypervigilance. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and anxiolytic or antidepressant agents can ameliorate symptoms.” [1]

The Mayo Clinic states it a little more simply, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.” [2]

Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Many psychologists and therapists agree that although everyone reacts to a traumatic event differently, not everyone that experiences a traumatic event will have PTSD.

Many can process emotional stress without long-lasting residual effects. Others appear perfectly healthy, while a simmering volcano lies just under the surface.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms and severity may vary between victims, but most professionals agree on three distinct symptoms:

1. An emotional re-experience of the event, which could include:

a. nightmares or,

b. flashbacks or,

c. any distressful event memories.

Any of these extreme events could produce profuse sweating, nausea, and rapid heart rate.

2. An avoidance of event reminders.

— Psychological avoidance of the place where the event occurred or specific aspects of the event, such as taking a long way rather than a short, direct route. This avoidance may lead to a physical display of detachment, depression, or loss of any interest in previously enjoyable activities.

3. An increase in anxiety or heightened emotional stress.

— Physical symptoms include irritability, trouble sleeping, angry outbursts, or a feeling of hyperactivity and emotional distress.

PTSD Treatments

The results of a study by Laser MD shows the “…beneficial effects included reduced depression, reduced suicidal thoughts, reduced sleep disturbance, and increased employment.”

Many PTSD patients find relief through Cold Laser and Trans-Cranial Low-Level Therapy (TLT), which ironically was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) around the time the Global War on Terrorism began in 2001. [4]

Cold laser and massage therapy are two widely used avenues to relax the nervous system and allow sufferers to participate in a non-invasive, pain-free course of treatment.

Although this is a relatively new approach to treating PTSD patients compared to others, such as acupuncture, which has been around for thousands of years, it uses the same basic principles without needles.

Cold laser or Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) applies light to specific points on the body known to stimulate the brain to release natural healing chemicals to reduce stress and begin the healing process.

Cold laser therapy has several benefits that patients and medical personnel appreciate. One is the elimination of addictive, often long-term, and expensive use of medication.

For more information, talk to your doctor, primary care provider, or VA Patient Advocate about LLLT, TLT, cold laser, or massage therapy.

NOTE: If you are a Veteran dealing with thoughts of suicide or PTSD, get help now. Call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1 (800) 273–8255, which is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US.

The hearing-impaired can call 1 (800) 799–4889.
In the Philippines: Call 02–8550–3888 countrywide. In Manila, dial 8550–3888.
In Europe: Call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118
In Korea: Call 0808 555 118 or DSN 118
In Afghanistan: Call 00 1 800 273 8255 or DSN 111 [4]

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1–800–656-HOPE (1–800–656–4673).

References:

[1] https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMra1612499

[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

[3] https://www.lasermdpainrelief.com/TLTPTSDPilotPhase1.html#:~:text=Transcranial%20Laser%20Therapy%20(TLT)%20using,sleep%20disturbance%2C%20and%20increased%20employment.

[4] https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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Stephen Dalton is a retired US Army First Sergeant with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Top Writer in Virtual Reality, Sports, Short Story, Design, and Creativity. I especially like writing about design and home improvements.

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