PTSD Self-Test for the Military
Those in the military often witness combat. They may have been placed on missions that exposed them to dangerous and life-threatening experiences. Events like these can result in PTSD military trauma-related symptoms.
Even though PTSD can extend far beyond the military and affect around eight million adults in the U.S. in any given year, the issue is particularly acute among war veterans.1 One study involving 60,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans showed that 13.5% of non-deployed and deployed veterans had a positive screening for PTSD.2 Other research shows this rate can be higher than 20%.3
PTSD Quiz for the Military (PCL- M)
What is PTSD?
PTSD, which stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health disorder that can occur after an individual experiences a traumatic event. Trauma is a dangerous and shocking event that a person sees or that has happened to the person. During an event like this, the individual believes their life (or another person’s) is in danger.
It’s not rare for people to go through trauma. Statistics show around 6% of the population (six out of every 100 individuals) will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime. About 12 million American adults have PTSD during any given year. This is just a small portion of individuals who have experienced trauma.
Approximately 60% of men (six out of every ten men) and 50% of women (five out of every ten women) experience a minimum of one trauma in their lifetime. Anyone can develop PTSD, and it’s not a sign of weakness.4
Not all people who go through trauma will develop PTSD symptoms. For individuals that do, the disorder may be difficult and confusing to understand in the beginning.
Differentiating “Normal” Worry from GAD
People with GAD report feelings of intense worry. It’s different from a normal worry that some people feel.
Nervous System Response to Trauma
PTSD is sometimes referred to as combat stress or shell shock. It’s normal for a person’s body and mind to be in shock following trauma or a life-threatening event, but this normal response can turn into PTSD if the person’s nervous system becomes “stuck.”
A person’s nervous system has some reflexive and automatic ways of responding to stressful events. These are:
- Mobilization (fight-or-flight) happens when the individual must defend themselves or survive the danger of a combat event. Their muscles tighten, their blood pressure rises, and their heart pounds faster, increasing their reaction speed and strength. After the danger has passed, their nervous system starts calming their body, lowering their blood pressure and heart rate, and winding back down to a normal healthy balance.
- Immobilization happens when the individual experiences too much stress in an event, and although the danger passes, they find themselves “stuck.” Their nervous system can’t return to its normal state of balance, and they can’t seem to move forward from the event — they have PTSD.
PTSD recovery will involve the individual transitioning out of the emotional and mental war zone they continue to live in and helping their nervous system become “unstuck.”
Causes of PTSD
PTSD can occur after an extremely frightening, distressing, or stressful event. Or it can occur after a prolonged traumatic experience.
Some types of events that can cause PTSD to include:
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious accidents
- Conflict and war
- Abuse, including domestic and childhood abuse
- Severe health issues, such as being admitted into intensive care
- exposure to traumatic events in the workplace, including remote exposure
- The death of a loved one or someone close
- Losing a baby or other childbirth experiences
It’s not entirely understood why certain individuals develop PTSD while others don’t. But, certain factors do make some individuals more susceptible to developing the disorder.
Risk Factors for PTSD
Various risk factors have been linked with a higher risk for PTSD. Certain individuals may be more prone to developing PTSD after being exposed to a traumatic event — other individuals may be more resilient. Other factors can increase the risk of an individual developing PTSD after a traumatic event.
Risk factors for developing PTSD can include5:
- Age: PTSD seems to be more common in the younger age group. However, research shows that the disorder is more persistent in older military veterans born before 1980.
- A Physical or Psychological Health Condition: A co-occurring condition like depression is linked with a higher risk for persistent PTSD.
- Combat Exposure Intensity: The intensity of combat is linked with the disorder’s persistence.
- Sleep Issues: Individuals who claim to sleep less have a higher chance of experiencing PTSD. This could be a multidimensional relationship since the disorder frequently causes sleep issues, and sleep problems also have a bidirectional relationship with other types of mental health illnesses.
No Social Support: An essential role in determining the severity of military PTSD symptoms is supportive social relationships. Individuals with social connections have a higher likelihood of being able to discuss their feelings, cope with intrusive symptoms better, and be compliant with their treatment plan.
PTSD statistics for soldiers suggest that PTSD from being exposed to combat is very common. But, military individuals may also have a higher risk of being exposed to other forms of traumatic events. For instance, military women may be at significant risk of being exposed to sexual trauma (military sexual trauma). Statistics also show that a lot of men are exposed to sexual harassment.
Around 23% of all veterans who utilize VA healthcare services report being exposed to sexual assault while serving in the military. Approximately 55% of women (38% of men) report being exposed to sexual harassment during their military service.6
Military soldiers have difficulty with war, and it’s also tough on their families. War can have a big impact on the soldier’s or loved ones’ mental health.
Some reactions that are common for military soldiers’ family members to experience include:
- Health issues
- Negative feelings
Social support can play a vital role in preventing and treating PTSD. Because of this, treatments that address the whole family and work to improve family dynamics and communication can be beneficial.
Symptoms of Military PTSD
Although people can develop military PTSD symptoms several hours or days after a traumatic event, in some cases, symptoms won’t appear for months or years after the return from deployment. And, while each veteran develops PTSD differently than the next, there are four specific symptom groups.
Some symptoms of PTSD include:
1. Extreme avoidance of things reminding the individual of the traumatic event.
This includes thoughts, places, people, or situations the individual associates with bad memories. It also includes losing interest in day-to-day activities and withdrawing from family and friends.
2. Repeated, intrusive reminders of the traumatic situation or event.
This includes distressing flashbacks, nightmares, and thoughts where the individual starts to feel like the event is occurring again. They may experience intense physical and emotional reactions to these reminders of the traumatic experience, such as uncontrollable shaking, panic attacks, and heart palpitations.
3. Being constantly on guard, emotionally reactive, and jumpy
As indicated by reckless behavior, anger, difficulty sleeping, irritability, increased alertness (hypervigilance), and trouble concentrating.
4. Negative changes in mood and thoughts
Such as persistent feelings of guilt, fear, or shame or exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself or the world. The individual may experience a reduced ability to have positive emotions.
Sadly, there isn’t a way to predict and prevent traumatic experiences and events that can cause PTSD. But, if a person survived one of these traumatic events, there are several things they can do to help protect themselves from symptoms like flashbacks. These include:
- Trying to reframe the way they think about complex situations. For instance, they can think about and see themselves not as victims but as survivors.
- Having a solid support system that can help them prevent PTSD. Individuals should lean on those they trust the most, such as family, friends, a partner, or a trained therapist. They can lean on their support network when things get difficult or if they need to discuss an experience weighing heavily on their mind.
Helping other individuals heal from a traumatic event could potentially help a person bring meaning to their own traumatic experience, essentially helping them heal.
Helping a Loved One With PTSD
When a loved one comes home from serving in the military with PTSD, it can heavily affect their family life and relationships. Family members and spouses/partners may need to contribute more to household chores. They may have to deal with anger, emotional shutdown, or other disturbing behavior.
Family members shouldn’t take a loved one’s PTSD symptoms personally. If their loved one seems angry, irritable, closed off, or distant, they should remember that this may not be personal. Some advice:
- Be understanding and patient: It takes time to recover and feel better, so family members and spouses should be patient and understanding. They should offer as much support as possible but not try to direct their loved ones.
- Don’t pressure them to talk: Many veterans with PTSD from the military find it hard to talk with others about what they experienced or are experiencing. Family members and spouses shouldn’t force their loved ones to open up and talk. Instead, they should let them know that they’re there for them if they decide they want to speak. By showing their understanding, family members and spouses can provide their loved ones with comfort.
- Anticipate PTSD triggers: Family members and spouses should try to anticipate and prepare for triggers of PTSD, such as specific smells, sights, or sounds. If they’re aware of what leads to an upsetting reaction in their loved ones, they’ll be in a better position to comfort them and help them calm down.
- Self-care: Family members and spouses can’t let their loved one’s PTSD dominate their lives while they ignore their own needs. This is a definite way to experience burnout. Family members and spouses must make time for themselves. They should learn how to manage stress effectively. The more relaxed, calm, and focused they are, the better they’ll be able to provide help for their loved ones with PTSD from the military.
Treatment for PTSD in the Military
Potential sources of PTSD treatment include VA care, military medicine, and private treatment options. Those who currently serve in the military, should be evaluated right away to start exploring treatment plans for their PTSD. People experiencing PTSD symptoms should consult a mental health professional for an official diagnosis.
Professional PTSD treatment can help individuals confront what they went through and learn to acknowledge it as something that’s now part of their past.
When veterans work with an experienced and trained doctor or therapist, their treatment options may involve the following:
1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT involves slowly “exposing” an individual to feelings and thoughts that remind them of the event. Therapists using CBT therapy may encourage individuals to re-assess their assumptions and thinking patterns to recognize unhelpful patterns (distortions) in their thoughts, such as negative thinking that reduces positive thinking, overgeneralizing bad outcomes, and always expecting catastrophic results, to more effective and balanced patterns of thinking. CBT helps individuals reconceptualize how they understand their traumatic experience, along with how they understand themselves and the way they cope.
2. Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy
This is evidence-based psychotherapy used for PTSD patients. It allows the individual to work through their painful memories in a supportive and safe environment. It enables them to engage in the activities they once enjoyed but are now avoiding because of the traumatic event.
Therapists use “imaginal” exposure (a process of addressing the traumatic memory) in PE. The therapist will work with the individual to change their feelings and thoughts surrounding their trauma. It utilizes a process where the individual engages with real-life scenarios (in vivo) exposure. Here the individual and their therapist work together to find the activities they’ve been avoiding because of the traumatic event.
The objective of imaginal exposure and “in vivo” is to help the person return to the activities they used to like doing. The entire process helps enhance their quality of life.
3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
This treatment combines CBT components with eye movements or other left-right, rhythmic stimulation like sounds or hand taps. These help a person’s nervous system become “unstuck” and allow them to move forward from the trauma.
Although medicine, like antidepressants, can help an individual feel less worried, sad, or on edge, it won’t treat the PTSD causes.
5. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
TMS is quickly becoming a popular option to treat PTSD, particularly among veterans. Using TMS to treat PTSD incorporates magnetic stimulation to the brain areas that create stress hormones.
Traumatic events can lead to physical changes to the structure of the brain and the way it functions. Changes like these can lead to abnormal hormone levels that trigger the fight-or-flight response. TMS’s magnetic brain stimulation can help suppress PTSD by balancing these hormones.
Sadly, therapy and medications aren’t always effective. Research shows in cases where there is major depressive disorder (MDD), symptoms are only reduced by 50% on average with antidepressants.7 And medications, particularly antipsychotics and antidepressants, have negative side effects.
TMS is an effective treatment for PTSD. Depending on the symptoms the individual experiences, the magnetic coils are used to stimulate the areas of the brain needed. TMS can help people manage their feelings and behaviors associated with PTSD.
TMS Therapy for Military PTSD
Because PTSD is a common disorder, professionals have multiple treatment options they can offer to help patients deal with PTSD symptoms, barriers, and life experiences. Speaking to a healthcare professional is an individual’s first step in receiving treatment for PTSD.
If you suspect you have PTSD, schedule an appointment with Brain Therapy TMS to speak with a healthcare professional about your different options for treatment, including TMS. The doctor will evaluate your symptoms and decide if TMS or another treatment option is a good fit to help lessen your PTSD from the military and restore your quality of life.
Contact us today for a free consultation.
- National Library of Medicine. PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, and What’s Next. Retrieved on 9-22-2022 from:
- PubMed.gov. The National Health Study for a New Generation of United States Veterans: methods for a large-scale study on the health of recent veterans Stephanie Eber 1, Shannon Barth, Han Kang, Clare Mahan, Erin Dursa, Aaron Schneiderman
PMID: 24005544 DOI: 10.7205/MILMED-D-13-00175
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. Retrieved on 9-22-2022 from:
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. How Common Is PTSD in Adults? Retrieved on 9-22-2022 from:
- BMC Psychiatry. Factors associated with persistent posttraumatic stress disorder among U.S. military service members and veterans Richard F. Armenta, Toni Rush, Cynthia A. LeardMann, Jeffrey Millegan, Adam Cooper & Charles W. Hoge for the Millennium Cohort Study team
BMC Psychiatry. Published 2-17-2018.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. How Common is PTSD in Veterans? Retrieved on 9-22-2022 from:
- National Library of Medicine. Depression: How effective are antidepressants? Retrieved on 9-22-2022 from:
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