Shell shock, battle fatigue, PTSD—the name has changed over the years, but one thing that has not changed is the fact that this illness, this disease, can dramatically alter lives. Not only are the lives of service members and veterans being changed, so too are the lives of the ones who love them.
It amazes me that there are still people out there who are not familiar with what exactly PTSD is, and how pervasive it is among combat veterans. Even veterans who have only been in a combat zone are affected by it. So why does it seem like more veterans are affected by the illness than before, and what misconceptions does the public still have about PTSD?
“Shell shock” was the term given to a constellation of mental symptoms during World War I. Mental illness during those times was often seen as character deficiency rather than an involuntary reaction or innate disease. Perhaps more understanding of this post-combat phenomenon or the natural evolution of a more modern and understanding society could contribute to the perceived increase in PTSD.
I believe that is one part of it.
Though I am no scientist, I believe that the main reason for the seeming uptick in PTSD is partially related the style of combat that soldiers face today. Fighting against a largely unseen enemy can certainly take a psychological toll on someone. Anticipation of an IED blast, and losing friends and brothers in service from those blasts are also extremely devastating to these men and women.
This seems to be somewhat similar to what happened in Vietnam. Troops were constantly ambushed, and the enemy chose to use guerilla tactics, killing and wounding so many brave service members. Sadly, their return from combat was greeted with anger and disdain from their fellow Americans, which ultimately led many of them to retreat into the shadows of society.
Make no mistake; many Vietnam veterans undoubtedly had PTSD. In fact, because of the difficulties Vietnam veterans faced, the “posttraumatic stress disorder” term was coined a few years after the Vietnam War ended.
The difference from Vietnam to today is that now, it is more widely recognized as a mental condition, rather than just an inconvenience left over from combat. PTSD is real. And it is devastating.
It is unfortunate that less involved people are bound to hear about PTSD from the tragic headlines that sometimes pop up. Stories like the one about Chris Kyle’s death at the hands of a disturbed friend and fellow veteran are not the norm. They are extreme examples in which one should not base a perception.
More often than not, those who suffer from PTSD are everyday men and women. Many of them have been out of the service for a while, and have adjusted back to civilian life relatively well. They, however, are the ones that can be at risk for a challenging road ahead because they are the least likely to feel that they need help. Their refusal to acknowledge that something is wrong creates strain on families. Sometimes, they eventually learn to cope with it and, to an extent, move past it. But sometimes they don’t.
The 22 veteran suicides per day you hear about are not a result of “fatigue.” Nor are they a result of insanity. They are a result of horrific experiences, fear, anxiety and despair. We have to keep up a relentless pursuit of finding an aggressive treatment for this illness so that sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and friends don’t find themselves another statistic of tragedy.
This PTSD Awareness Day let’s all remember the heroes who have fought—or even those who did not fight—and call attention to this disease. Let’s concentrate on how to fight this sad and difficult illness and how we might be able to help those who suffer from it. Join the discussion and understand the cause.
We will find a way to better confront and treat PTSD. Until then, DVNF urges you to know that PTSD is more than shell shock and battle fatigue. It is both—and much more.