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The Military's Mental Health Crisis

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The military knows there is a steady increase in depression and stress-related disorders in their ranks, but little is being done to meet these needs.

Dr. Michelle Golland: It was during his third tour of duty that Army Sgt. John Russell, 44, entered a mental health clinic at Camp Liberty in Baghdad and shot and killed 5 people. It is reported that he was suffering from stress and possibly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our military men and women are staying on longer tours with repeated deployments, which is causing increased mental health problems for our troops. We must help our military moms and dads receive the mental health services that they need while abroad and when they return home.

Sad soldier

Many reports show that our military has been putting men and women back into combat when they were clearly not emotionally ready to handle the repeated stress. The military knows there is a steady increase in depression and stress-related disorders in their ranks, but little is being done to adequately meet these needs.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that 16% of troops returning from Iraq suffered from mental health problems, the most prominent of them being PTSD. Other common disorders include depression, substance abuse, marital discord, and impulsive anger. Among veterans, prevalence is directly proportional to combat exposure. After one firefight, the rate of PTSD rose to 9.3% from 4%, and it jumps to 20% for those veterans who have endured five or more combat episodes.

The problem may actually be worse than even believed because of "delayed onset" PTSD. The symptoms are the same, but it develops months to years after the actual combat events. The Army Surgeon General, L.T. General Kevin Kiley, reported that among 1,000 Army soldiers surveyed three to four months after returning from Iraq, a full 30% had developed stress-related mental health problems.

PTSD can occur following a life-threatening event like military combat, natural disasters, terrorism incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults such as rape. Most survivors of trauma return to normal life given a little time. But some people have stress reactions that get worse over time and do not go away untreated.

What does PTSD look like?

• Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, and perceptions

• Recurrent and distressing nightmares of the traumatic event

• Intense psychological distress when exposed to cues or reminders of any aspect of the trauma

• Extreme physical reactivity (heart racing, sweating, intense fear) when exposed to any cues or reminders of trauma

• Persistent avoidance of any reminders of the traumatic event

• A general numbing in responsiveness; the person feels detached and estranged from others and may have little range of emotions and few strong feelings

• A sense of foreshortened future; having come close to death, the person sees it as imminent

• Hypervigilance (constantly scanning the environment for danger)

• Exaggerated startle response

• Poor concentration

• Irritability/Anger

• Sleep disturbances

It is important that each of us who know someone in the military, whether a family member, friend, or neighbor, be alert to PTSD and other combat stress issues so that we can be supportive in any way possible. These brave men and women are risking their lives and leaving their families in the name of our country and they deserve to be treated for any mental health issue that developed from their military service. It is vital to our country that our troops return home to have productive, happy, and healthy lives. Increased emotional support and mental health treatment are key to recover from PTSD, so if you think someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please encourage them to seek treatment.

Do you or anyone you know suffer from PTSD?

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