FYI: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A staggering percentage of U.S. servicemembers is suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress: One in five. That's according to a new study by the Rand Corp., which looked at the symptoms American troops said they showed after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Only about half of them have sought treatment. The recently completed survey showed 18.5 percent - or 300,000 people - said they have symptoms of depression or PTSD, the researchers said. Nineteen percent - or 320,000 - suffered head injuries ranging from mild concussions to penetrating head wounds.

Read on to find out more about PTSD, veteran mental health and suicide warning signs.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, "PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening."

Those who have experienced a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These can include:

  • Combat or military exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
  • Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake.

    For those who have PTSD, there are generally four types of symptoms:

  • Reliving the event
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling keyed up -- on alert and on the lookout for danger

    From the NIMH Web site: "PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes."

    The National Center for PTSD offers this information in a tipsheet, and notes: "after the event, you may feel scared, confused, and angry. If these feelings don't go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities."

  • What Do People With PTSD Suffer From?
    Victims of PTSD may often re-live the experience that triggered their anxiety through flashbacks or nightmares. They may have difficulty sleeping, feel detached or saddened. Symptoms can significantly impair the person's daily life.
    How Is PTSD Treated?
    PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy and medication. Some treatments appear promising, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and exposure therapy, according to the National Center for PTSD. Alternative therapies, such as virtual reality, have also shown promise. Studies have also shown that medications help ease associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help with sleep.
    How to Spot Suicide Warning Signs
    The Department of Veterans Affairs provides the following warning signs.
  • Talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • Trying to get pills, guns, or other ways to harm oneself
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting in a reckless or risky way
  • Feeling trapped, like there's no way out
  • Saying or feeling there's no reason for living

    For more on mental health services at the Dept of Veterans Affairs, click here or call the VA's suicide hotline at 800.273.TALK (8255).

  • Suicide Signs Unique to Vets
    Experts on suicide prevention say for veterans there are some particular signs to watch for.
  • Calling old friends, particularly military friends, to say goodbye
  • Cleaning a weapon that they may have as a souvenir
  • Visits to graveyards
  • Obsessed with news coverage of the war, the military channel
  • Wearing their uniform or part of their uniform, boots, etc
  • Talking about how honorable it is to be a soldier
  • Sleeping more (sometimes the decision to commit suicide brings a sense of peace of mind, and they sleep more to withdraw)
  • Becoming overprotective of children
  • Standing guard of the house, perhaps while everyone is asleep staying up to "watch over" the house, obsessively locking doors, windows
  • If they are on medication, stopping medication and/or hording medication
  • Hording alcohol -- not necessarily hard alcohol, could be wine
  • Spending spree, buying gifts for family members and friends "to remember by"
  • Defensive speech "you wouldn't understand," etc.
  • Stop making eye contact or speaking with others

    For a wallet-size card titled "What to do you if you think someone is having suicidal thoughts," click here.

  • Where to Get Help
    Hotline for Veterans
    Veterans who need help immediate counseling should call the hotline run by Veterans Affairs professionals at 1-800-273-TALK and press 1 identifying themselves as military veterans. Staff members are specially trained to take calls from military veterans and its staffed 24 hours a day, everyday. While all operators are trained to help veterans, some are also former military.

    Clinical Care
    To find the closest Dept of Veterans Affairs facility to you that has mental health professionals, go to this Web site and type in your zip code.

    Veterans Affairs Health Benefits

  • Read more about what benefits are available to veterans.
  • To find out more about what kind of services returning service members qualify for, check out this summary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Related Links
    • The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress, special center within Veterans Affairs, has more information.

    • Click here for resources for U.S. service members returning from deployment.

    • Click here for help for veterans with PTSD.

    Air Force Suicide Prevention Program

    Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine

    Navy Environmental Health Center's Suicide Prevention site

    Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program

    National Center for PTSD

    Suicide Prevention Action Network USA
    Phone: 202.449.3600
    Fax: 202.449.3601

    Nonprofit group Give An Hour

    SAMHSA's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    TTY: 800.799.4889