The Destructive Stigma Associated with Military Post-traumatic Stress

Everyone needs help to overcome a life-obstacle at some point…physical, emotional, relational or financial. It is why we need family and community to stand with us during life’s ups and downs. By nature of my work, I connect with individuals who have desperately needed help but simply would not ask for help because they did not want to impose or bother. I said to someone who had just endured a difficult situation by herself, “I think you needed to phone a friend!” For our military, reaching out is particularly difficult.

When our veterans need help to handle PTSD

We have been writing about our military men and women who have returned from their respective tours of duty with physical or emotional injuries. The military suicide rate has been alarming and the effects of PTSD devastating to them and their families. Most alarming is nearly half of those who have committed suicide did not ask for help for their struggles.

The stigma of asking for help.

As I have spoken to veterans and their families, I have consistently heard how many have a problem asking for help. They have said for them and their comrades, asking for help is a sign of weakness, something a soldier just should not do. I also have heard about fear of repercussions that admitting a problem could hurt their military career. Further, I have also heard that some of their officers did not want them to admit that they needed help.

I certainly can understand why such a stigma can exist. Our soldiers are renowned as brave, courageous and resilient. So, our enlisted men and women feel that their job is to be strong, defend our freedoms and protect each other no matter what the circumstances.

War can create an emotional concussion.

Enduring conflict, loss of comrades, brain injuries and the intensity of chronic threat can cause what we refer to as an “emotional concussion,” an event that creates real neurological consequences. These consequences affect how individuals might react abnormally to normal situations and stressors. Because of the emotional concussion, the stigma of asking for help can be extremely destructive.

The healthiest thing that a victimized soldier can do is to get immediate help for their wounded inner self.

There are many therapies helpful to the healing process in which they learn to cope with the memories, grief, depression and despair of serious PTSD.  While there may not be a complete cure, coping strategies can be learned and can help with the impact of post-traumatic stress. Important to note: there are real ways to help the impacted parts of the brain find equilibrium, regulation and a sense of awareness that can help with some of the more extreme forms of trauma.

In order to find the strategies and therapies that may help our military, we must eliminate the stigma that admission of PTSD is a sign of weakness.

I believe getting appropriate help is simply being a good steward of one’s body: it is a sign of someone truthful and strong to authentically pursue a path to recovery. Honestly, it is the only way a victimized person can once again work, build and maintain good relationships and be emotionally stable.

I know that the very nature of our military is to be courageous and strong. In this case, denial is not a sign of strength. Therefore, permission to get help is essential to thousands of veterans who have suffered with a variety of issues related to their war time experiences.

Encourage a veteran to get help.

If you know of (or suspect) someone who has returned from war with PTSD, please encourage that person to spend time with someone who is knowledgeable, compassionate and competent to help transition him or her back into society.

Not getting help because of a stigma seems to be a very strong value that many of our veterans are loyal to. It may take some coaxing and persuasion to help these individuals cross the bridge to the help they desperately need.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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