Human aggression, war and exposure to any form of violence can affect a person’s wellbeing. It is common to assume that soldiers are never affected by war. The exposure to war and subsequent consequences such as amputation of limbs or death of their fellow soldiers and civilians caught in the war zones can cause mental problems. One of the most common mental health problems that soldiers grapple with is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can affect a soldier who has returned from war to the extent that they are unable to lead normal lives. Soldiers affected by war need medical intervention to ensure that they overcome the effects of war and reintegrate into the society with ease.
PTSD is also known as combat stress and occurs after exposure to severe trauma or life-threatening occurrences. The nervous system responds differently to stressful situations. First, it (the nervous system) can trigger social engagement allowing people to engage in normal social interaction and subsequently overcome the stress. The second alternative involves a fight or flight response where the individual has to defend himself or work towards escaping imminent danger. The third response is immobilization where an individual finds himself stuck after experiencing too much exposure to a stressful event. PTSD occurs when an individual is unable to recover or move on after a stressful event. In soldiers, the exposure to war over a long period leaves them susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (Gibbs, Clinton-Sherrod, & Johnson, 2012). It is easy to assume that soldiers are trained to kill thus are well prepared in times of war. However, killing even in war is potentially traumatic and can lead to PTSD. Soldiers at war also witness their colleagues being killed or even experience a situation where their life is at risk (getting shot at or blown up).
Upon return from war, a soldier may exhibit characteristics such as nightmares and flashbacks that involve reliving of the events of the war. The soldier may also be hyper vigilant and alert to the extent that he does not fall asleep. The soldier may also be irritable and may experience difficulties concentrating. A soldier with PTSD may also demonstrate emotional numbing where he becomes detached from family, friends or even colleagues. The soldier may withdraw from the public eye and may find solace in avoiding people, events or conversations related to war (Kerig, & Wainryb, 2013). PTSD in soldiers can have a negative impact on those around them including friends and family.
PTSD Affecting Family Members
Soldiers exhibiting PTSD can also affect their family members. Family members can experience secondary stress associated with the behavior that their soldier-relative is demonstrating. Families can experience depression, anxiety and in extreme cases engage in substance abuse as a means of managing the soldier. A soldier struggling with PTSD may have difficulty handling ordinary life stressors and as a result, demonstrate frustration and anger. Unfortunately, it is the family members including children that experience the brunt his frustration and anger. Family bonds and relations can break because of post-traumatic stress disorder. For instance, children may avoid their soldier father upon the realization that he gets agitated easily. A once close father-child relationship may break because of post-traumatic stress disorder. A soldier with PTSD can also cause his family members to fall into self-blame. For instance, a spouse may believe that he or she has a role in his or her spouse’s erratic reactions/behavior. The spouse may feel that he or she is not doing something right hence his or her partners erratic and unpredictable reaction (Goff, Crow, Reisbig, & Hamilton, 2009).
The inability to feel and express emotions (an effect of PTSD) may lead spouses, family members, and friends to feel pushed away. Unfortunately, the feeling results to the family members and friends withdrawing from the soldier. In the end, the PTSD-afflicted soldier feels more isolated and unloved than before. The soldier is then left out of family activities and in the end, struggles to adjust to the normal life (Gibbs, Clinton-Sherrod, & Johnson, 2012). Lack of emotions also means that the soldier may be hurtful and mean with his words. He or she may speak out without considering the impact of his statements.
Traumatized soldiers also struggle to perform in the workplace. Tendencies such as irritability, mood swings, and poor concentration can lead to job termination thus leaving the partners struggling to support the family financially. The traumatized soldier may be unable to keep a job for long due to the demonstration of unsuitable behavior such as aggression and poor concentration. Colleagues who find themselves working with a traumatized soldier may experience difficulties especially when the soldier adopts a workaholic approach and locks outs his colleagues. His colleagues will not be able to consult him whenever necessary or even engage him in teamwork projects when required to do so.
Coping with PTSD and the Way Forward
Soldiers struggling with PTSD need psychological care as part of their overall health management. According to Abeyasinghe et al. (2012) soldiers also need pre-combat preparation so that they can have an easier time managing the stressors of war. However, it should not be forgotten that soldiers with PTSD also affect their families, friends, and colleagues. Effective PTSD management requires the healing of everyone; from the affected soldiers to the family, friends and colleagues interacting with him or her. For instance, counseling is essential for the soldier and also the immediate family so that they can learn how to cope with the condition and assist the soldier. The soldier will have an easier time coping with the noncombatant environment when he or she receives support from those closest to him (Engelhard, Huijding, van den Hout, & de Jong, 2007).
Soldiers are trained to handle combatant environments. However, the training does not mean that they are susceptible to negative outcomes as a result of the exposure. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common mental disorder that affects soldier exposed to war and combatant environments. Some soldiers experience difficulties adjusting to the normal environment due to PTSD. Unfortunately, the manifestations of PTSD can have a negative influence on the soldier’s relations with his family, friends, and colleagues. Effective assistance of soldiers with PTSD requires the integration of families in establishing an effective recovery process and assisting the immediate family cope with the soldier.
Abeyasinghe, N. & Bandara, J. (2012). The prevalence of symptoms of PTSD among soldiers with amputation or a limb or spinal injury. Journal o psychological health medicine. Vol. 17(3): 376-81
Engelhard, I. M., & de Jong, P. J. (2007). Vulnerability associations and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers deployed to Iraq. Behavior Research & Therapy, 45(10), 2317-2325. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.04.005
Gibbs, D. A., Clinton-Sherrod, A. M., & Johnson, R. E. (2012). Interpersonal Conflict and Referrals to Counseling Among Married Soldiers Following Return From Deployment. Military Medicine, 177(10), 1178-1183
Goff, B. N., Crow, J. R., Reisbig, A. J., & Hamilton, S. (2009). The Impact of Soldiers' Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan: Secondary Traumatic Stress in Female Partners. Journal Of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 8(4), 291-305. doi:10.1080/15332690903246085
Kerig, P. K., & Wainryb, C. (2013). Introduction to the Special Issue, Part I. Journal Of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 22(7), 685-697. doi:10.1080/10926771.2013.817816
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Also See: Traumatic Stress, Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic, Family Members, War, Traumatic, Stress