Understanding PTSD: What Is It & How Does It Affect Military Veterans?

Understanding PTSD: What Is It & How Does It Affect Military Veterans?

Calendar-IconMay 15, 2023  |  mental health, military families, PTSD
A serviceman sitting and looking down at his hands

Your mental health is one of the most important aspects of your well-being.  


Mental health refers to a person’s overall psychological and emotional wellness, and it encompasses a range of factors that affect how a person thinks, feels, behaves, and operates. This includes their ability to cope with stress, maintain relationships, and make logical decisions.  


The CDC estimates that more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in their lifetime, and 1 out of 5 Americans will experience a mental illness each year.  


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most prominent mental illnesses today. That is especially true for war veterans. PTSD can have a significant impact on a veteran’s daily life and is often a result of traumatic events faced during military service.  


The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person, but they often include the following: 


  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event or events through flashbacks or nightmares 


  • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma 


  • Negative changes in mood or thinking 


  • Hyperarousal, or constantly feeling on edge 


In this post, we will take a deeper look at PTSD, including what this disorder is and how it affects military veterans.  


What is PTSD and What Does it Look Like? 


PTSD is not one single issue. Rather it is a collection of symptoms of varying severity that interfere with a person’s daily life, work, and relationships.  


While it is most common in war veterans, anyone can experience PTSD as a result of a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, serious accident, violent crime, combat, or sexual assault.  


Symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency, and the severity of the event or events that caused PTSD does not always correlate to the intensity of the disorder.  


The neurobiological mechanisms that cause PTSD (or which parts of the brain cause this disorder) are not fully understood. Researchers have been able to identify several regions of the brain and neurological pathways that may play a role.  


One key region implicated in PTSD is the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes emotional responses, including fear and anxiety. Individuals tend to have an overactive amygdala, which is thought to contribute to heightened fear and anxiety responses.  


The prefrontal cortex is also thought to play a role in PTSD. This region of the brain is involved with regulating emotions, attention, and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex may be underactive, which can impair the ability to regulate emotion and respond appropriately to stressful situations.  


In addition, several different functions may be altered or impaired, resulting in PTSD. These include: 


  • Changes in neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine 


  • Changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which involves how the body responds to stress 


Identifying the issues that cause PTSD is complex. Continued research will be key to help identify the causes of PTSD and how it can be treated.  


Why Does PTSD Affect Military Veterans? 


It is no secret that military veterans suffer PTSD at higher rates than the general population. However, it is also important to note that not all veterans suffer from PTSD.  


Studies by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report that approximately 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year. Further, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study estimates that around 30% of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD in their lifetime.  


This is a significant number of veterans suffering from mental health trauma.  


Here are a few reasons why war veterans may be at a higher risk for developing PTSD as compared to the general population.  


  • Frequent exposure to traumatic events. This can include combat, witnessing the death of a fellow soldier or civilian, and exposure to other types of violence or danger. 


  • Chronic stress. Military service is highly stressful and demanding. The chronic stress of military life may contribute to the development of PTSD. In addition, veterans may face stressors related to services such as financial difficulties, health problems, and difficulty readjusting to civilian life.  


  • Lack of social support. It is common for veterans to feel isolated or disconnected when they return to civilian life. Most civilians cannot relate to their experiences and because of this, family members and friends may not be able to support them. 


How Does PTSD Affect Military Veterans? 


These issues can compound and lead to PTSD and other mental illness struggles. The result is that veterans suffer internally and have nowhere to turn. PTSD can affect veterans in several ways. Below are some of the most common experiences veterans face.  


Impaired Functioning 


PTSD often affects a veteran’s ability to carry out regular daily activities, including work or caring for family members. It also can make it more difficult for them to maintain relationships and make social connections.  


Increased Risk for Other Mental Health Problems 


Veterans suffering from PTSD may be at risk of developing other mental health disorders. Common mental health issues include depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.  


Increased Risk for Physical Health Problems 


Though it is a mental health disorder, PTSD can have negative physical health consequences. These health issues include chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.  


Mental Health Solutions for Veterans at Child Focus 


PTSD is a very serious mental health disorder that can cause suffering or even death. Because of this, treatment is highly important.  


There are several different treatments for PTSD, and it all starts with regular therapy sessions with a therapist who you trust.  


For more Child Focus resources for veterans, check out this guide for veterans looking to reconnect with family after returning from service! 


Child Focus offers therapy and adult mental health services in Clermont county, Brown county and Hamilton county offices.   


If you or someone you care about is suffering from PTSD or other mental health disorders, then Child Focus is here for you. Click here to reach out to Child Focus today and start your journey toward mental wellness. 


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