Wars and their preparation have an undeniably catastrophic effect on countries affected. However, more than the countries, these leave an even more profound impact on people, whether they are directly involved or are simply innocent bystanders during the event.
Among others, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is the most prevalent effect these people can experience. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can occur if someone has experienced a traumatic incident. It is said to affect 6.8% of the US adult population alone. However, it occurs more among those exposed to wars or is in the military themselves. According to recent studies, the prevalence of this condition among military veterans is approximately between 12% and 30%.
Why is it more common among them?
War or conflicts that result from closely similar events have been happening for millennia, and so have traumas that go along with them. However, post-traumatic stress disorder is a relatively new diagnosis. While PTSD may have only become an official diagnosis recently, people throughout history have acknowledged that exposure to extreme combat situations has an intensely negative impact on those involved physically, mentally, and cognitively.
What causes this condition?
These situations commonly happen to veterans after they get out of their service. After being exposed to such stressful environments as battlefields or military training, returning home or returning to their routine and neutral environment might become equally stressful to them. The shift in their surroundings becomes too evident that it triggers anxiety in the brain as if they’re still nervously waiting for something to happen.
When faced with dangerous situations, the body typically has two normal responses to stress: fight vs. flight or immobilization. The difference between them is that the body naturally calms down during fight or flight response and returns to normal afterward. But with immobilization, the nervous system gets stuck. In a more biological perspective, the part of the brain that gets most affected in these events: the amygdala, remains active, which causes the person to always feel on-edge or anxious. PTSD happens after severe trauma or an extremely life-threatening event – in veterans’ cases, it’s either experiencing war or even the rigorous training of the military. The body and mind can normally be in shock under these circumstances, and it only becomes a disorder if they don’t return to their normal state.
For instance, in a book by Frank Dutch, one war veteran, Josh O’Donnell, experiences difficulties and feels as if someone is always watching his every move as he’s on the run from the Union army on Can’t Hobble the Elephant. This continuous sense of anxiety can be attributed to his post-war stress.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Individuals experience PTSD differently. Veterans with this condition may face several challenging thoughts and emotions. Some of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:
Disturbing dreams, memories, or flashbacks related to the experience
This symptom is typically called “re-experiencing the event.” It involves any repeated or unwanted memory of the traumatic incident. These intrusive thoughts include memories and dreams, which are often very clear and vivid. In some cases, those with PTSD may experience flashbacks triggered when they’re doing or are exposed to things that can be associated with the traumatic event. During these flashbacks, they may feel as if they’re back in that time and reliving the event again.
Evading anything that reminds them of the experience
Memories of traumatic events are as equally dangerous as experiencing them. Many people with PTSD may intentionally or unconsciously avoid people, things, or places that may remind them or trigger flashbacks. They might even become reclusive from the people close to them and steer clear from discussing their military service or experience.
This becomes an issue when it comes to seeking psychological help. As the recollection of these events is emotionally distressing, talking to a professional about it can be highly challenging for them to do.
Changes in their mood or cognition
Experiencing traumatic events produces a mixture of cognitive and emotional consequences. These experiences can push the brain to repress memories as a coping mechanism, which can likewise affect a person’s overall memory. Any remembered casualties or damaging events can be attributed to their identity, thus negatively affecting their beliefs and perception of themselves. This can be a source of self-loathing.
Being extremely sensitive and reactive
Since people with PTSD are immobilized, their brains are locked in a continuous sense of danger and anxiety. Accordingly, these people will experience hypervigilance or heightened sensitivity, awareness, and reactivity to their surroundings. This can include irritability and random moments of anger outbursts or dangerous behavior.