Many military veterans throughout the country suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Approximately 20 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan may have PTSD. While this ailment has gained much-needed attention recently, it still is going untreated and underreported in the medical community. PTSD often manifests itself with symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety as a result of experiencing highly stressful situations such as combat.
Veterans, and other individuals who have served in combat zones, should be aware of the various treatments that can help relieve some of the stress and anxiety that can come with PTSD. These treatments can be a huge help to those afflicted with this terrible disorder and bring peace and calm to their daily lives.
Symptoms of PTSD
Those suffering from PTSD can experience several different symptoms. Many individuals who suffer from PTSD become depressed or suffer from extreme anxiety. Many of those afflicted with PTSD become isolated and withdrawn from their community, which feeds into a self-perpetuating cycle as the individual becomes more and more withdrawn from their friends, family, and community and, in turn, more depressed and further withdrawn. Many others suffer from nightmares or flashbacks to traumatic events.
Often, a victim of PTSD engages in avoidance techniques to avoid emotional triggers that may lead to a flashback. But, in doing so, these avoidance techniques can leave the individual very isolated and cause him or her to miss out on many events.
Some experience significant changes in their emotional state. Some suffering from PTSD become highly irritable or guarded. Others become riddled with guilt or shame for their past. Alternatively, some will experience memory loss, particularly of the events that may have caused the PTSD in the first place. Others engage in dangerous behaviors such as heavy drinking or engaging in very dangerous activities. For some individuals with PTSD, the symptoms can be so severe, particularly depression, that the person can feel suicidal. Those feeling suicidal should not wait and contact a helpline immediately such as the national suicide prevention lifeline at: 1 (800) 273-8255. Veterans can go to a vet-specific crisis helpline by dialing that number and pressing “1”. Online chats are also available.
Considering how serious the disease can be, it is important that individuals with PTSD have treatment options. Treatment options have grown significantly over recent years as the PTSD problem has become more publicized in the media.
Types of Treatments
Veterans should be aware that the Veterans Administration (VA) offers treatment options at its facilities that can help veterans deal with PTSD. Serving Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, the Miami VA offers recreational therapies and medications to vets.
Recreational therapy can include activities such as scuba diving, mediation, and yoga. Experts also recommend that those with PTSD work with animals, such as service dogs or horses. Participating in relaxing activities, such as yoga, or playing with a well-trained dog, can help relieve some of the stress that an individual suffering from PTSD has on a daily basis.
An important part of these recreational therapy activities is to help individuals suffering from PTSD become more comfortable socializing with others and to become active while decreasing depression and anxiety.
While playing with dogs is generally fun, the key for individuals with PTSD is to work with dogs that have been specially trained and certified to work with individuals with PTSD. These dogs are trained to provide a solid therapeutic bond with the master and help relieve PTSD-related stress. Notably, these service animals can be brought into businesses, restaurants, and planes to support the individual.
Both contractors and veterans who have experienced combat or other traumatic situations may suffer from PTSD. Recreational therapy, including the companionship of trained service dogs can be immensely helpful in helping individuals cope with PTSD.
To obtain a service animal for coping with PTSD, a veteran should obtain information that proves that he or she is suffering from PTSD, such as a letter from the VA. The veteran should contact a service dog organization such as one of the following:
Any organization such as those listed above, may be able to help work with a wounded veteran to match him or her with a suitable service animal. Individuals interested in a service dog organization should do extensive research before choosing them. Individuals should make sure that the organization provides thorough training and provides training that certifies the animals as “service” animals, opposed to merely therapy or support animals. While animals that may be “therapy” dogs may be supportive and helpful for those with PTSD, those animals will not have undergone the same level of training as a certified service animal and will also not necessarily be allowed on planes or commercial buildings.
Once a veteran and a canine are matched by a training organization, the veteran generally will need to spend a significant amount of time at first to train the dog and to build a strong relationship with it. Often these training courses can last approximately two weeks. While two weeks is a long time to take out of one’s daily routine, the long-term benefits of obtaining a highly skilled canine service dog, and pet companion, are immense for those suffering from PTSD.
With recreational therapy, medication, and psychotherapy, individuals suffering from PTSD can often find some help in coping with the disorder.