JUNE 27, 2022 — Most people are aware of the terms “shell shock”, or “battle fatigue”, and they invariably conjure up a vision of a Soldier or other military service member who is traumatized by something that occurred in combat. While that is a plausible scenario, today the terms used above are relegated to the history books, as is the idea that trauma only happens to those in combat.
June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day, a time to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, focusing on what it is, and urging people to seek help, for themselves or for someone they feel is suffering from it.
According to the National PTSD Organization, one in three members of the military will develop PTSD after they come home from serving in conflict, but less than 40% of those afflicted will seek psychiatric help. PTSD sufferers are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than the general population.
Unfortunately, suicide is common for PTSD sufferers. An estimated 34% of people with PTSD are classified as at-risk for suicide.
Numerous studies have shown that more active-duty military personnel and veterans died by suicide than in combat (Iraq and Afghanistan combined).
A study by the Cost of War Project at Brown University estimates 30,177 Global War on Terror veterans have died by suicide, compared to 7,057 who have died while deployed in support of the Global War on Terror.
A Department of Defense report published in September 2021 cited “In CY (calendar year) 2020, there were 580 service members who tragically died by suicide.”
But it’s not just service members, or veterans, who experience PTSD.
“It is now known to affect not just military veterans,” said U.S. Army Sustainment Command Health, Wellness and Resiliency specialist Dr. Joy Summerlin, “but anyone who has gone through an intense traumatic experience.”
“Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include physical or sexual assault, war-related combat stress, terrorism, natural or man-made disasters, and other threats on a person’s life.”
Summerlin said people with PTSD often suffer from depression, negative thoughts, and impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
She said statistics from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veteran Affairs show that 70% of adults in the U.S. (military and non-military) have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. This equates to approximately 223.4 million people. More than 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. As of today, that means that up to 45 million people have struggled with, or are struggling with, PTSD.
“Typical symptoms of PTSD include distressing dreams, persistent thoughts and recurring flashbacks about the traumatic event or events, numbing or avoidance of memories of the trauma, triggered emotional responses, and persistent hyper-arousal,” she added.
PTSD can be very complicated, because not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD, and the symptoms are often unique to the individual. But help is available.
“PTSD is treatable with a trained mental health professional,” Summerlin said. “There is no way to cure PTSD, though there is a growing body of techniques to help manage these conditions, including psychotherapy, exercise therapy, service animals, and more.”
Summerlin said even though PTSD treatments work, most people who have PTSD don’t get the help they need.
“Everyone with PTSD, whether they are veterans or Civilian survivors of sexual assault, serious accidents, natural disasters, or other traumatic events, needs to know that treatments really do work and can lead to a better quality of life.”
A national PTSD Awareness Day came about through the efforts of former North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad. He pushed for a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD. Biel took his own life after his return from duty to his home state. Staff Sgt. Biel’s birthday, June 27, was selected as the official PTSD Awareness Day, which is now observed every year.
PTSD Awareness Day aims to raise public awareness about the disorder, educate a wide audience about PTSD, and provide people affected by PTSD with access to proper treatment.
There are countless resources on/off military installations for both them and their family such as command and installation chaplains, Employee Assistance Programs, Behavior Healthcare Professionals and more. Also, screening for PTSD is available at adaa.org, and it’s free, private and anonymous.
PTSD is treatable, but only if those suffering from it are able to reach treatment. If you know of anyone who is harming themselves or has just harmed themselves, call 911 or take them to an emergency room immediately. If you know someone you think might need help, urge them to see a medical professional.
Story by Greg Wilson
U.S. Army Sustainment Command