March 2, 2017, by Rachael Murphey – When a loved one is an active service member, it can be difficult to make sure they receive the proper support when they return. Two common afflictions service members face are traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Understanding the difference between the two can allow you to provide complete support when your family member returns.
Traumatic Brain Injury
A TBI is a head injury that can cause changes in the brain’s regular function. This can happen during training or combat, and its effects can last for a few days or for years. Some common changes that occur after a TBI include impaired thinking and decreased memory, loss of sensation such as hearing or vision, and emotional changes including mood disorders, according to Attorney Stewart Cohen. These changes do not occur in every patient, and every patient’s recovery time is different.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a mental illness that develops in response to a traumatic event such as being involved in battle or experiencing assault. Feelings of shock and panic are part of the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response during a traumatic event. These events do not need to be life-changing in order to cause a PTSD response in someone’s brain. Those with PTSD experience these feelings after the shocking event is over. PTSD symptoms can be divided into four major categories:
Re-Experiencing Symptoms (Reliving the event):
- Reliving the event after hearing or seeing a trigger
- Purposely avoiding circumstances that remind the patient of the event
- Ex: large crowds, watching the news, or being around too much noise
- Feelings of depression
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Negative thoughts
- Trouble remembering or talking about the traumatic event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being easily startled
- Feelings of tension or anger
Understanding the Difference
A TBI is a physical injury that may have emotional and cognitive effects. PTSD is a mental illness that could be present even if a person did not experience a physical injury while deployed. While some symptoms may overlap, if your loved one has experienced these symptoms for 3 months or longer it is likely they are suffering from PTSD. If you think a loved one has PTSD, offering support and encouragement to see a therapist can help them get the treatment they need. Most PTSD patients use a combination of medication and talk therapy to treat their symptoms, and the support of their family and friends during this time helps them improve.