Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that sometimes occurs when a person experiences an intense trauma. Some kinds of traumas that can lead to PTSD include childhood abuse, sexual assault, natural disasters like tornados or earthquakes and wartime experiences for soldiers. Symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks and hypervigilance (being on edge and easily startled, as if on guard for something bad to happen). People with PTSD also tend to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic experience they suffered. Many soldiers serving in Iraq have witnessed a great deal of combat and consequently are at high risk for developing PTSD.
According to MSNBC, about one out of every eight servicemen and women that serve in Iraq suffer symptoms of PTSD. Those that serve in Iraq are far more likely to suffer from PTSD than those that served in Afghanistan, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That may be because soldiers in Iraq generally experience more combat. An article in the December 20, 2006 issue of the Washington Post reported that soldiers that do more than one tour in Iraq are more likely to develop PTSD than those that do only a single tour of duty.
The standard treatment for PTSD, according to the Mayo Clinic, is psychotherapy along with medication as appropriate. Professionals have found several types of therapy to be effective for PTSD including cognitive therapy, exposure therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Medication can treat symptoms like anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Many psychotherapists specialize in the treatment of PTSD. Sometimes brief therapy does the trick but some people with PTSD require therapy over an extended period of time, especially if they experienced multiple traumas as is sometimes the case with servicemen and women.
Unfortunately, only about 40 percent of servicemen and women that suffer from PTSD seek help. Many report concerns about possible damage to their military careers as the reason for not seeking treatment. The Army has increased the number of mental health professionals in Iraq and 95 percent of soldiers surveyed reported that mental health services were readily available to them; many of them just choose not to use the available services.
Educating servicemen and women about PTSD and its treatment may encourage more of them to seek treatment when needed. Education could also reduce the stigma around mental illness so those in need of treatment would feel more comfortable seeking help.
Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
MSNBC. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5334479/. 1 in 8 Returning Soldiers Suffers from PTSD.Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/19/AR2006121901659.html. Repeat Iraq Tours Raise Risk of PTSD.