PTSD Awareness Day – How Can You Help?

National PTSD Awareness Day is observed on June 27th. This day of observance was started by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) in honor of Iraq veteran Joel Biel. Biel served two tours in Iraq and was in the Army National Guard in North Dakota, before he took his own life. June 27th, Biel’s birthday, now marks the day every year to raise awareness, help destigmatize, and support service members that are affected by PTSD.

What is PTSD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, is a “psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a national disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, combat, rape, or other violent personal assault”.

Those who are afflicted by PTSD may have “intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended”, and may include nightmares, flashbacks, and intense emotions of sadness, anger, or fear.

PTSD in the Military

Combat related post-traumatic stress disorder has been a side effect of war and combat and was first documented after WWI. Service members with common PTSD symptoms were referred to as having “shell shock” or “combat shock” after service; this was an early attempt to understand and give a name to the PTSD symptoms service members and veterans shared after combat situations and deployments.

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association cataloged PTSD as a disorder, legitimizing and validating the feelings and symptoms many veterans were having. It also created a concrete definition for doctors and psychiatrists to help accurately diagnose and help those suffering from PTSD.

The Statistics

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs:

  • 11-20% of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans suffer from PTSD
  • 12% of Desert Storm (Gulf War) veterans suffer from PTSD
  • 30% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD

The Stigma

According to a recent study posted to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health the “common perceived stereotypes of treatment-seeking veterans with PTSD included labels such as “dangerous/violent” or “crazy” as well as they are responsible for their disorder.  Many other veterans keep quiet about their PTSD in fear of being fired or let go because of their health needs.

Understanding the stigma surrounding the military community can help make veterans feel more comfortable when seeking treatment or asking for help from employers, friends or family.

How to Help

Listen without judgement

  • If someone with PTSD talks about their combat experience, troubles they’ve had after a deployment, or how they’re feeling, just listen. Listening to someone express their feelings and validating those feelings will help them.
  • Don’t compare stories or try to one-up them or say, “It could have been worse”.
  • Reassure the person that they can confide and trust in you.

Support without pressuring

  • Validating a person’s feelings can help them process their PTSD and encourage them to seek treatment. Help them by supporting their good habits and behaviors like exercising or going to therapy.
  • Don’t try to push them into triggering or uncomfortable situations; every person has different triggers and has experienced different situations and no case of PTSD is the same. Ask questions to make sure you don’t accidentally cross any boundaries.

Spread Awareness by promoting or volunteering for nonprofits and organizations dedicated to helping those with PTSD.

  • National Center for PTSD– a division of the Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Military OneSource– a free, confidential, non-medical counseling service available 24/7
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness– provides answers to questions service members may be too afraid to ask
  • PTSD United– aims to “empower and provides support” to veterans via an anonymous support network
  • Give an Hour– a network of professional volunteers capable of delivering mental health care to veterans, service members, and their families by working with government, corporate, and non-profit partners
  • BraveHeart– provides healthcare resources and specialists for those returning home from Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom