PTSD in the Navy

PTSD is a real possibility for members of the US Navy and other branches of the armed forces. Individuals in the military experience the following and more:

  • The stress of prolonged deployment
  • Grief, guilt and fear inherently involved in combat
  • The trauma of war zones

Any traumatic experience, experienced first or even second hand, can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those enlisted in the Navy experience more of these experiences than the average citizen. Trauma and PTSD have lasting effects on a person’s mental health and quality of life.
 

What Are the Effects of PTSD in Navy Veterans?

Some common symptoms of PTSD include the following:

  • Vivid memories
  • Waking flashbacks
  • Visual or auditory distortions
  • Intense nightmares that reenact all or part of the traumatic memories

Not all symptoms are related to perception and memory. Other symptoms are physical. They can occur when traumatic memories are triggered, but they may also appear unexpectedly and on their own.

These physical PTSD symptoms of combat-related PTSD include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)

Additional, even more serious symptoms, include the following:

Every individual experiences PTSD differently. The commonality is that symptoms interrupt a person’s ability to find balance and thrive.

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Why Does PTSD Develop?

PTSD has nothing to do with physical strength, determination, or willpower. If any person experiences trauma, even second-hand trauma, he or she may develop PTSD. Perceived physical threat and psychological duress initiate the body’s “fight or flight” response – a set of reactions that can reactivate when memories of traumatic episodes resurface. The brain accepts this state of being as normal and does not resolve the traumatic memories.

Trauma essentially can “rewire” the brain’s pliable neural pathways, forging new associations, reactions and connections in the wake of abuse, assault or life-threatening events.

Medical brain illustrationBecause of this, those with PTSD find they react as though threats are present long after they occurred. This reaction involve the PTSD symptoms listed above. Individuals re-experience the original trauma, often through reactions such as flashbacks, nightmares or panic attacks. As an individual with PTSD re-experiences traumatic reactions, neural connections can become further reinforced.

Co-occurring, related depression, anxiety and substance use issues can further complicate the situation. This simply means PTSD is a real, serious mental health issue that requires professional, specialized treatment.
 

Who Needs Help With PTSD?

Both combat-oriented and non-combat jobs in the Navy often put individuals in high stress and life-threatening situations. Living on a high level of alert while experiencing and witnessing injuries and violence increases the risk of PTSD.

The Congressional Research Service reports that “In 2010, 5,959 cases of PTSD were diagnosed in active duty servicemembers, a rate of approximately 8.4 new cases per 1,000 servicemembers. Overall, 2% of active duty servicemembers had ever received a PTSD diagnosis.”1

This is a staggering number that doesn’t even consider those who are diagnosed after returning home or those who struggle in silence, never seek help and never receive a diagnosis.

Anyone can find themselves or a loved one facing symptoms or feelings they don’t understand or simply don’t want. And PTSD and mental health issues aren’t something that can just be willed away, no matter how strong an individual is. If someone is experiencing PTSD symptoms, he or she needs professional support. This help can be found by talking with doctors, mental health professionals, and reaching out to integrated treatment providers like The Oaks at 901-350-4575.

By Alanna Hilbink, Contributing Writer


Sources

1 Blakeley, Katherine and Jansen, Don. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Mental Health Problems in the Military: Oversight Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. 8 Aug. 2013.