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Information for Veterans Dealing With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
If you experienced severe trauma or a life-threatening event before, during, or after service, you may have developed symptoms of extreme stress — commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of certain events, sleeplessness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feeling numb, and anger and irritability.
What factors can increase the risk for PTSD?
Sometimes symptoms of PTSD don’t surface for months, or even years, after a traumatic event or deployment. Symptoms also may come and go. If these problems don’t go away — or, worse, if you feel as if they are disrupting your daily life — you may have PTSD.
Some factors can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, such as:
- The intensity of the trauma
- Being hurt or losing a loved one
- Remaining physically close to the site of the traumatic event
- Feeling you were not in control
- Lacking support after the event
Recognizing symptoms of PTSD is the first step toward feeling better
Veterans with PTSD experience a variety of symptoms, some of which may be difficult for others to detect. Symptoms can occur immediately after a specific event or can surface weeks, months, or even years later. Learning to recognize these symptoms is the first step to feeling better:
- Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened
- Having nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event that make you feel as though it’s happening all over again
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event
- Feeling emotionally cut off from others
- Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about
- Feeling anxious, jittery, or irritated
- Experiencing a sense of panic that something bad is about to happen
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having trouble keeping your mind on one thing
- Having a hard time relating to and getting along with your spouse, family, or friends
It’s not just the symptoms of PTSD but also how you may react to them that can disrupt your life. You may:
- Frequently avoid places or things that remind you of what happened
- Turn to drinking or using drugs to numb your feelings
- Consider harming yourself or others
- Pull away from other people and become isolated
Warning Signs of a Crisis
Symptoms of PTSD do not always lead to a crisis — but if left unchecked, they could become a serious issue over time.
Learn to recognize these warning signs of a mental health crisis. If you notice any of the following, get help immediately or encourage the Veteran to do so:
- Engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or reckless use of weapons
- Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
- Looking for ways or having a set plan in place to kill oneself
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide
- Saying final goodbyes to friends and family
- Putting personal affairs in order or giving away possessions
Treatment for PTSD works
The two main types of treatment are talk therapy and medication. Research shows that talk therapy, such as prolonged exposure therapy or cognitive processing therapy, can help Veterans with PTSD. Likewise, medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. Some individuals experience benefits from combining these two types of treatment.
These treatments can produce positive and meaningful changes in your symptoms and quality of life. They can help you understand and change how you think about your trauma — and change how you react to stressful memories.
Be patient and persistent. You may need to work with your doctor or therapist to try different types of treatment before finding what works most effectively to treat your PTSD symptoms. Also, PTSD treatment has improved quite a bit over the years — so if you tried talk therapy or medication in the past and still have symptoms, it would be good to try again.
Veterans can also consider contacting their family doctor, who may know them well and be able to offer support, guidance, and appropriate referrals during a crisis. Local mental health professionals, such as a therapist, counselor, or spiritual or religious adviser, can provide additional support.
It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of harming yourself, death, or suicide. You can always contact the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, using the online chat, or texting to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.