September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a fitting time to draw awareness to something that affects many service members — Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a disorder that can occur after a person has been exposed to actual or threatened death, injury, or sexual violence.
PTSD is especially common among veterans, who may encounter a number of traumatic experiences while serving in the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 10-15 percent of veterans will develop PTSD at some point following their military service.
“Some of the symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and avoidance of situations or changes in mood or thinking,” said Darci Thompson, 162d Wing director of Psychological Health Services.
Although treatment for PTSD has a high success rate, service members may still feel apprehensive about getting help due to the perceived consequences of taking action.
“There is certainly a stigma when it comes to mental disorders,” Thompson said. “But the military has shifted significantly. The opportunity to get help is exactly why I am here. We are looking to keep people on the job and get them the help they need.”
You’re confidentiality ensured
Because of this stigma, it’s especially important that Airmen know the services provided by Psychological Health are confidential.
“Everything will be kept confidential. The only exception to this is if an Airman may cause harm to themselves or someone else. My goal is to look at expediting the right help. I want to understand how to support them to get them to that place of health and well-being,” said Thompson.
Oftentimes, that support comes in the form of a referral to a therapist who specializes in working with service members with PTSD.
Karoline Crawshaw, a licensed counselor in Tucson, Arizona, works primarily with military and paramilitary members and said PTSD is an issue that cannot be ignored: “PTSD symptoms do not magically disappear. Treatment is necessary to alleviate the symptoms, let the psychological wound heal and scar over. Untreated, a person suffering from PTSD can lose their relationships, family, freedom, job, home, and life.”
Treatment is effective to help healing
Fortunately, there are several effective and evidence-based forms of mental health care designed to treat service members experiencing PTSD.
Crawshaw said that with proper treatment, PTSD symptoms improve or resolve in about 84 percent of cases.
“Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. Continuing to experience the pain, anguish and sadness over what happened is not necessary. So please seek help. And don’t give up,” Crawshaw said.