Gun control has been a hot topic in the media for some months, especially in light of the recent tragedies in Aurora and Newton. In recent weeks however, the media has slightly shifted from gun control and general mental health issues, to concerns regarding gun violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the military.
Recently, an ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh gunned down two fellow colleagues at a Texas shooting range. It is alleged that one of the victims, Ex Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, had met with the killer that day to help him recover from PTSD symptoms. According to Media sources, Kyle had worked with military personnel struggling with PTSD using guns as a controversial method to deal with their symptoms. Routh was later found confused, barefoot and intoxicated by police. That same week Christopher Dorner, a former member of the LAPD Police department and an Ex Marine, killed three individuals, Including a police officer. Before going on his shooting rampage, Dorner published a 14 page manifesto online accusing the police department of racism and the courts of wrongfully revoking his status in the Navy, where he served overseas and was a decorated marksman. At the time this piece was written, Dorner is still on the run from police and is considered armed and highly dangerous.
Both these cases have received immense media coverage in recent days. The severity around each crime combined with the amount of publicity in the national media has led to questions whether PTSD may have been a contributing factor and if the loss of life could have been avoided. Once again the spot light is on mental health services in the US and Canada, specifically services for military personnel.
According to The U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), from 2001-2012, roughly 103,792 military personnel were diagnosed with PTSD. This number could rise significantly as assessment tools become more precise, and if government policy starts to recognize the need for adequate mental health services in the military. There are other concerns as well, consider the current suicide rate in the military. In 2012 alone, it was up 15%.That is a huge increase. We have to ask ourselves why that is. Why aren’t our military personnel receiving the right support and resources?
The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we doing enough for our armed forces when they return from battle? Moreover, could there be a correlation between military personnel who are suffering from PTSD and violent behaviour?
First let ask look at the condition itself. What is PTSD?
According to the DSM-IV, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder embodies the following symptoms;
- The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
- The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: in young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated).
- Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
- Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
If symptoms are not addressed properly it can lead to addictions such as the use of drugs and alcohol to help numb the distress they are experiencing. It has been argued that the high suicide rates in the Military may also be attributed to PTSD symptoms. However, more studies need to be conducted in this particular area.
This leads to several important questions;
1- What can be done to address PTSD in the Military?
2- Do all individuals who experience trauma encounter PTSD?
3- Is there a correlation between PTSD symptoms and violence?
4- In light of the recent media attention regarding PTSD in the military, Is this contributing to an open dialogue on the need for better mental health services for our armed forces or is it contributing to further mental health stigma?
5- What role as practitioners can we have in highlighting / addressing this issue?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very complex and traumatic mental health condition. It not only affects the individual who is suffering from it, but can also affect every aspect of their lives, such as their relationships with family and friends. Symptoms can often be misunderstood which can cause further isolation and alienation. More needs to be done in supporting our armed forces. Military mental health practitioners and social workers need to be better trained in spotting the symptoms and acknowledge that symptoms can fluctuate in intensity and frequency depending on the individual. Even more crucial, is the need for long term follow up for military personnel experiencing PTSD. It is not uncommon for individuals diagnosed with PTSD to experience re occurring trauma.
Our world continues to evolve and change and societies are continuously being challenged by economical, political and religious turmoil. We need to think ahead that there is strong likelihood that we will continue to face large and more long term conflicts and wars. It is time that mental health takes a front seat in the military. These men and women put their lives on the line; the least we can do is support them.
United States Veterans affairs website offers PTSD resources and training for practitioners and medical personnel. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/
U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Recent research conducted over a 11 year period.http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf
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