For many veterans returning home from service, means coping with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Smith, 2018). Readjusting back to civilian life can be difficult, it may take time to be comfortable again. A veteran may feel on edge, disconnected, or feeling like they can explode at any moment or feel panicked. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a disorder that a veteran will live with for the rest of their life, but can be managed through proper treatment and not lead into serious complications. Each of the symptoms of PTSD can look different in every veteran, but ultimately has the same diagnosis.
The causes of post-traumatic stress disorder, or sometimes known as ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat stress’, occurs after you experience severe trauma or a life-threatening event (Smith, 2018). After this presents, your brain tells your nervous system that you are essentially stuck. There are two ways an individual’s body can react which is being mobilized or immobilized. Mobilization is your nervous systems flight or fight response, this occurs when your body needs to defend itself or survive the danger of a combat situation. Your adrenaline kicks in, your heart starts to pound faster and hour muscles tighten increasing your strength. Once the adrenaline passes, your body starts the process of calming itself. Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced too much stress in a situation (Smith, 2018). Your body is unable to return to its normal state and your body tells your mind that you are unable to move on from this traumatic event.
Symptoms can develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, sometimes symptoms don’t surface for month or ever years after you return from deployment (Smith, 2018). There are four main symptom clusters that you can look out for, (1) recurrent, intrusive reminders of the traumatic event, (2) extreme avoidance of things that remind you of the traumatic event, (3) negative changed in your thoughts and mood, (4) being on guard all the time, jumpy, and emotionally reactive (Smith, 2018).
When a veteran is having recurrent reminders of the traumatic event, this can be nightmares, and flashbacks like the event is happening again (Smith, 2018). Often times when veterans are experience this it happens as a panic attack, cold sweats, heart beating fast. This causes the individual to not sleep thoroughly throughout the night or will not fall back asleep, this could lead to drowsiness during the day and be in a bad mood. The second symptom, is extreme avoidance, this can include people, place, thoughts, or situations that the veteran associates with the bad memories when they were active (Smith, 2018). In an individual this can be seen as them pulling away from their friends or family and not wanting to hang out with them. When asked by friends to hang out, they will pull away and act like they have lost interest in their daily activities. They will stop doing the hobbies that they once enjoyed and stay at home in the comfort of their own safe space. The third symptom is negative changes in the individual’s thoughts and mood (Smith, 2018). Veterans with PTSD often having feelings of guilt, after witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event, such as watching a fellow military friend being blow up, or witnessing someone getting murdered. Feeling this type of guilt is normal, along with feelings of shame and fear. Feelings of shame is due to them thinking they have been through a war and should be proud of it, but now are showing these emotions that is not normal to that individual. These feelings give the veteran a diminished ability to be able to feel positive emotions, not being able to feel happy again or go back to the person they were before. The last symptoms are being on guard all the time, feeling jumpy and emotionally reactive (Smith, 2018). This symptom is presented as the veteran feeling irritable and angry, always in a bad mood, and will snap at anyone. The bad mood can lead into reckless behavior, such as drinking and driving. Drinking and driving are a dangerous mixture for someone who is suffering from PTSD, they can feel the emotions more, and can have trouble concentrating and trouble falling asleep.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), when suffering from a trauma or a stressor related disorder the individual has to present with these symptoms for a month or more (APA, 2013). The symptoms can show up right after the traumatic even to up to three months after the event. In some situations, the traumatic even can show years later, when the veteran sees someone or is in a situation that takes them back to that combat situation and the panic sinks in. For post-traumatic stress disorder, this disorder is mainly fear based.
1.Smith, M. (2018, September). PTSD in Military Veterans. Retrieved from
2.American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (5thedition). Arlington, VA: Author.