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Understanding affliction of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Affects as many as 500,000 U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan

OW Staff Writer | 11/12/2020, midnight
Wednesday, America observed Veterans Day, honoring all those who have served...

Wednesday, America observed Veterans Day, honoring all those who have served our country in war or peace, and recognizing them for their sacrifices to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.

Many veterans who served in military conflicts, however, continue to experience nightmares or flashbacks caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Those people often relive traumatic events experienced on the battlefield, which have become seared in their memories and can negatively affect their mental health.

In one major study of 60,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 13.5% of deployed and non-deployed veterans screened positive for PTSD, while other studies show the rate to be as high as 20 to 30 percent. As many as 500,000 U.S. troops who served in those wars may have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to the study.

And, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found differences among African-American and White Vietnam theater Veterans in terms of readjustment after military service. African-American male Vietnam Veterans had higher rates of PTSD than Whites. Rates of current PTSD in the study were 21 percent among African-Americans, and 14 percent among Whites.

“PTSD affects individuals in many different ways,” said Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “There’s one common denominator, however. Those who suffer from PTSD can experience significant challenges when it comes to handling daily activities such as work, going to school or having healthy relationships with their spouse, children, friends and loved ones. That can often lead to social withdrawal, anxiety, shame, sleep disorders, or even suicide.”

Zuberbuhler, who practices at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, noted the simplest triggers can make someone with PTSD feel like their nervous system has been hijacked by a panic reaction and that can cause them to fight (get angry), flight (avoid) or freeze (feel numb).

He noted certain factors increase the chances of someone developing PTSD, including having directly experienced or repeatedly witnessed the aftermath of a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event, which is common among many veterans.

According to Zuberbuhler, doing the following may improve a person’s path to recovery from PTSD:

• In times of anxiety, reassure and comfort yourself.

• Always attend scheduled counseling sessions and doctor’s appointments.

• Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and illegal drug use, as they can raise your anxiety level and cause problems with sleeping.

• Make sure you get sufficient rest.

• Exercise.

• Use proven relaxation techniques.

• Get involved in your community.

Because there are times when PTSD can cause severe anxiety and other mental health challenges, Zuberbuhler emphasized the importance of knowing when to seek help.

“If you start thinking about hurting yourself or others, then call 911,” he said. “Additionally, if your symptoms get worse, or you feel your state of mental health isn’t improving, contact your health care provider.”