Liz Snell is the Founder of Military Spouses of Strength, an initiative that brings awareness and seeks to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment in the military. If you would like to learn more about her organization or volunteer, please visit: www.milspousesofstrength.org
Screaming with tears running down her face, covering her ears, my ten year old daughter refused to go to the doctor; despite the fact that her temperature was steadily creeping above one-hundred. Until six months ago, we didn’t have this problem… that is until she spent every day for three months in the hospital with her father as he struggled for his life. Since his accident and my husband’s return home, we have had to dramatically change our lifestyle- not just for him, but for our ten year old as well. She was recently diagnosed with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It is often thought that PTSD is a disease only affecting those within the military. False, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anyone after a traumatic event that is difficult for the mind to process, whether it occurred directly to the individual or to someone they were close with. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) PTSD affects 7.7 MILLION adults nationwide. PTSD is non-discriminatory; age (including children), gender (though women are more prone), and ethnicity provide no basis as to whether or not someone is susceptible to PTSD. Dr. Ingrid Herrera Yee, AFI National Guard Spouse of the Year 2014, provided the following: “Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening experience or who was witness to a traumatic event or events can have PTSD. Family members of victims can develop the disorder as well. About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during any given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.”
Another common assumption is that PTSD is a disease of the “weak-minded.” Undoubtedly, false. Each of us is equipped with a “fight-or-flight” response. A natural reaction that our bodies and minds use in times of stress. Those afflicted with PTSD get stuck in the “fight-or-flight” mode. This does not make them weak, rather constantly fighting a battle against themselves… unbeknownst to others.
There is a misconception throughout American society that those who live with PTSD are an extreme danger to others. This is also false. The truth of the matter is that most people that live with PTSD suffer from symptoms that include: re-experiencing (flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts), avoidance (avoiding places/events that remind them of the traumatic experience), and hyper-arousal (startled, on edge, or angry outbursts). People with PTSD are not prone to violence simply because of their diagnosis, how a person handles the stresses of PTSD vary from person-to-person.
Finally, it is sometimes believed that there is no successful treatment for PTSD. Again, false. Those that have PTSD must be committed to their recovery program in order to see positive results. However, between medication and therapies, those with PTSD can live “normal” lives.
My daughter exhibits many behaviors classic to PTSD: she avoids hospitals like the plague (we don’t even talk about them, or watch shows with hospitals in them), she has a hard time leaving her Dad’s side, and is easily angered. She is steadily getting better through her treatment program which includes: medication and play therapy.
As we send our troops home from war, there seems to be an overwhelming concern that they may be “unfit” to live within civilian society due to a possible PTSD diagnosis. I wonder what that means for my daughter, for rape victims, for those who have suffered a serious accident, or lived through a traumatic natural disaster. Should we force shame and labels on every person that lives with a diagnosis of PTSD?
You see, PTSD is not something that is unique to the military. It is not a game-ender, (though it may change how the “game” of life is played), and it is not something that should cause us to fear one another. Instead, one of the most powerful ways to help someone with PTSD is to be a support system. I challenge you to change how you perceive those with PTSD and be mindful that it is more than just a “weak-minded person’s (or veteran’s) disease.”
Liz is a Marine Corps spouse of 13 years; with over 10 years’ of volunteering and work experience within organizations that make a positive impact upon the military community. She holds a Master’s Degree in Strategic Management and Leadership from Western Governor’s University. In 2013 Liz founded Military Spouses of Strength, an initiative to bring awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health within the military community.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/bmwspirit/9230651758/”>Georgi C</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>