“The Best Years of Our Lives” was the first war movie to deal with post traumatic stress disorder. It actually won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 1946. I saw this movie last Veterans Day and was moved by the portrayal of the struggles of three service men as they adjusted to civilian life after returning from World War II. What a realistic portrayal of the aftermath of PTSD — for some.
PTSD is triggered by exposure to one or a series of traumatic events that are associated with the possibility of serious injury or death.
Traumatic events may include active combat, physical or sexual assault, or an experience like the 2013 Boston City Marathon bombing. It is not uncommon for individuals who have undergone these types of trauma to have bad dreams or nightmares at night and intrusive thoughts or memories of the event during the day.
Our Armed Forces have been at war since October 2001, with about 1.6 million troops having been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Service members and their Families also face unique challenges and stresses not typically encountered by their civilian counterparts.
It is normal for many service men and women to experience some fear, anger, sadness, temporary sleep disturbance and difficulties adjusting to Family life upon their return from deployment. About 20 percent of our servicemen and women also report symptoms of post-combat stress and depression, but only a little more than half of that number seek professional help.
The good news is that, with time and therapy, most people recover from traumatic events. But some continue to experience severe anxiety, distress and depression for a long time afterward. Many suffer in silence, despite the urging of loved ones to seek help.
Some come to feel detached from Family and friends. They may become jumpy and startle easily. In attempts to manage this, they avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event(s). Sometimes these reactions are delayed and may appear months or years after the event occurred.
But not all individuals who experience traumatic events develop PTSD. Likewise, not all people with post-combat stress symptoms have relationship problems or close themselves off from the world.
Many people with post-combat stress symptoms actually find comfort in strong social networks, and benefit from remaining open and honest with their loved ones about their struggles. Working on problem-solving skills, developing ways to be creative and remembering to have fun are important ways to deal with stress symptoms. Some even find themselves becoming stronger and more emotionally resilient after having survived such difficult tests.
If you or someone you love seems to be experiencing post-combat stress symptoms that are negatively impacting their daily functioning (e.g., not going to work, no longer enjoying hobbies, and having relationship problems), please seek out professional help. With treatment, most people report significant improvements in daily functioning and overall quality of life.