According to Vanity Fair, the American military currently has the highest rate of PTSD in its history.
I spoke with Jennifer Villareal, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, who has received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from California Baptist University in Riverside, about this illness. It’s something she is all too familiar with, both professionally as an Emergency Services Clinician at Pennyroyal Center in Kentucky, and personally, as her husband’s PTSD is so severe, he’s disabled from working. Here’s what she had to say:
- The symptoms can take a long time to emerge.
It takes at least six months for the diagnosis to be made. Before that, the symptoms are called acute stress disorder, and in order for it to be classified as PTSD, the symptoms have to impact multiple layers of function for the person: professionally, personally, educationally, etc.
- It has nothing to do with emotional strength (or lack thereof). It has to do with how one’s biology processes a traumatic event (or minor multiple events strung together).
- If left untreated, it can exacerbate other mental health issues. In addition to the symptoms getting worse. Anxiety, depression, bipolar and personality disorders, can all manifest as a result of PTSD, even leading to suicide.
- It’s an invisible illness. Sometimes people will be just fine, but sometimes they won’t be “just fine.” Underneath the surface, there’s always some sort of shame or guilt that’s potentially about to explode, and this will impact all interactions.
- There’s not a “one-size fits all” treatment. Individual therapy, group therapy, medication management, and even hospitalization are among the treatments available. Reconnection workshops for deployed service people have also been beneficial. Remember – by the time a diagnosis has been made, clinical help is definitely needed.
So how can friends and family help someone who suffers from PTSD? Villareal encourages educating oneself on the symptoms of PTSD so that they know what to look for, and to make sure their loved one feels recognized and supported when discussing their symptoms, and to encourage their loved one to seek help as quickly as needed. “The quicker things are treated, the better quality of life the person’s going to have,” Villareal notes.
“And, because PTSD, in the most severe cases, can lead to suicide, don’t be afraid to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’,” she says somberly. “If they are to say yes, to know how to get them help: hook them up to a crisis line, take them to the V.A., in the most shame-free way as possible.
“Friends and family members have to understand that the person who joined the military isn’t necessarily the same person when they get out of the military,” she continues. “Sometimes it’s just hard to adapt [to the idea] that this person is different, without putting a lot of strain and stress on them to be a certain way.”
If the person suffering from PTSD wants to talk about it, let them talk about it, but she also recommends just sitting in silence with them, too, if that’s what they want. “Some people want to talk about, some people don’t. You have to find out which it is for the person in your life so you’ll know how to best help them.”
And how can the public support the troops? “It’s great to have a yellow sticker on the back of your car,” Villareal says, “but to actually support the troops, thank them for their service. If you have somebody in your life who was deployed, or who was in the military in general, reach out to them.
“There’s a lot of wives, partners, husbands, that are left at home while people are deployed or people are training,” she adds. “Bring them dinner; understand that they can’t always go somewhere because they’re trying to raise the kids all by themselves, and help them embrace the family life that they have at this point.”
“Bring them dinner; understand that they can’t always go somewhere because they’re trying to raise the kids all by themselves, and help them embrace the family life that they have at this point.”
Finally, she also recommends attending any Welcome Home and Yellow Ribbon events and rallies for deployed service members. “Any way to be able to participate as a community and show the person that they are being supported as a whole, so that they can see a gathering of people, is helpful.”
As part of his own recovery process, in addition to individual and group therapy, as well as medication, Villareal’s husband is extremely involved in outpatient services, and is considering being a peer support specialist to help other veterans get engaged, get involved, get the treatment they need, and help them get better.
And ultimately, that’s what we all want.
Thank you, to ALL our veterans.