The passing of years sometimes does not erase the emotional impact of war’s cruel realities. Seeing your friend and fellow soldier suffer injury or possibly die can lead to seemingly endless rounds of self-questioning and doubt. Thoughts about how the tragedy might have been averted and wondering what could have been done differently haunt survivors and sometimes become a source of self-torment.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) describes the disorder which may result from the overwhelming feelings of fear, anger and guilt resulting from these sorts of war-related experiences. Experts suggest that more than 30 percent of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD. Sadly, the families of these soldiers often share in their suffering.
Research suggests that nearly 30 percent of families (spouse, children and even parents) of soldiers with PTSD, report problem symptoms themselves. Worry over the deployed soldier’s safety and feeling unsafe themselves while the family is incomplete are common issues.
Currently, approximately 150 million U.S. soldiers are deployed or are war veterans. Wars are mostly fought by the young and many of these soldiers are married with young children (nearly 100 million), the vast majority of which are under the age of 11.
Once the soldier returns home, worry about them doesn’t cease as many of these soldiers bring with them a surging inward turmoil. Battle injuries or combat-related stress can heighten tensions within the family as soldiers struggle to contain strong emotions. An exaggerated startle response is just one symptom of PTSD, but this can make even the simplest of family playfulness a potential for explosive behavior.
Families often want to help and offer understanding but many returning soldiers find it very hard to speak about their war experiences with their loved ones. Spouses watch helplessly as their mate suffers but won’t allow them into their private place of pain. Many refuse to seek out professional help.
The military has made efforts toward communicating that seeking help with PTSD is part of good soldiering and not a symptom of weakness. One commander reportedly likened the battlefield to the football field where combatants often experience injury. Seeking rehab is a normal and healthy part of war just as it is in sports he is said to have told soldiers poised for deployment. Still, a great hesitancy remains among affected soldiers.
Most fear that seeking treatment for their PTSD will harm their chance for advancement. As a result, soldiers and families suffer in a cloak of silence. Some soldiers wind up leaving their families rather than continue to expose others to their own stress and sometimes erratic behaviors.
Military attitudes toward seeking treatment appear to be changing, but many say they aren’t changing fast enough. Meanwhile, those counselors who work regularly with PTSD affected soldiers and families warn that there are no quick fixes. They further explain the need to accept that though there is hope for dealing with symptoms, the loved soldier has been forever changed by his/her experiences.