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It was called homesickness after the Civil War, shell shock in WWI, and combat neurosis during WWII. In the 1980s, the American Psychiatric Association recognized combat-related trauma as an anxiety disorder in its own right and named it post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Triggered by the violence of war, PTSD is a result of the reality of war experiences. The current and projected rates of combat PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are high and they will only increase with time, as these former soldiers hopefully will seek the help they need to overcome the difficulties in adjusting to civilian life.
The onset of PTSD is often accompanied by periods of intense fear, horror, or helplessness. Symptoms may include a persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic events, avoiding experiences/places, or people that trigger those memories of the events. It can also take the form of hypervigilance or increased arousal which can result in nervousness, extreme sensitivity to sudden noises, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or inappropriate rage or depression. The PTSD sufferer may have trouble relating to others and may feel alienated or that life is meaningless. In the most extreme cases, he may have pervasive thoughts of murder or suicide.
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If you suspect that you or someone you care about has combat PTSD, get help for yourself or others to cope. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but is a way to overcome what happened to you and allow it to become a part of your past. An experienced doctor or counselor can be a great ally for you in the process. While it is normal to want to avoid painful memories and feelings, doing this will only worsen symptoms. Trying to avoid them is exhausting and can harm your relationships and quality of life. In PTSD treatment you will explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma, work through your feelings of guilt, self-blame and mistrust, learn how to deal with and be in charge of intrusive memories, and work on the problems PTSD has created in your life and relationships.
If you are a veteran suffering from PTSD, you can find help at your local VA hospital or Vet center. You can find out more about the resources and benefits you are entitled to by calling the VA Benefits Service Center at 1-877-222-VETS. The National Center for PTSD website (www.ptsd.va.gov/public/where-to-get-help.asp) has a directory of mental health providers as well as a live chat service with a crisis counselor any time of the day or night. If you are experiencing an extreme emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.
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Treatment & Therapy
The types of treatments for PTSD include trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, medication, and EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy involves gradually allowing yourself to have thoughts and feelings that remind you of the trauma. You will identify upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event, particularly those that are irrational or distorted, and replace them with more balanced thoughts.
Family therapy can be especially productive since PTSD affects not only you, but those around you. It can help your loved ones and support system understand more clearly what you are going through.
Medication usually involves the use of antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft to help the secondary symptoms of depression and anxiety. Although they do not address the causes of PTSD, they can help you feel less sad or on edge.
EMDR uses elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. Eye movements are thought to "unfreeze" the brain's information processing system, which is interrupted during times of extreme stress.
For the vets who are opposed to these treatments or going to a mental health center at all, sometimes getting involved with other vets in PTSD support groups can be a tremendous benefit and eventually give them the nudge they need to seek out the therapies and medication options listed above.
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Recovery from combat PTSD is a gradual, ongoing process. While you may feel like avoiding others, it is important to stay connected to the people who care about you and receive their support. Consider joining a support group for combat survivors. It is tempting to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs to avoid difficult emotions, but this worsens PTSD in the long run. Challenge your sense of helplessness by volunteering your time in some way to help others.
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United States Department of Veterans Affairs: http://www.ptsd.va.gov//