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Why Veterans Often Don't Seek Help for PTSD - And How You Can Help

Why Veterans Often Don't Seek Help for PTSD - And How You Can Help

More than a decade of war in the Middle East has made post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a very prevalent public health concern. Unfortunately, many veterans won’t seek help for PTSD, and it’s important to understand why this is and how we can reach those that need help.

Veterans now account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S., with the youngest (18–24 years of age) four times more likely to commit suicide than their non-veteran counterparts of the same age.

Why is there an Uptick in PTSD?

In the last several years, a dramatic increase in the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking help for PTSD has occurred. This has helped to shine a spotlight on this condition and raise questions about treatment options and barriers to care.

It’s not clear if PTSD is more common in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than in those of previous wars and conflicts, but these wars presented a unique set of circumstances that contributed to mental health problems. Urban-style warfare tactics in these countries, including guerrilla attacks, roadside improvised explosive devices, and the uncertain distinction between safe zones and battle zones, have triggered more post-traumatic stress in surviving warriors than conventional wars. It’s also important to note that improvements in gear and medicine have increased survivability, meaning a lot of soldiers are surviving with very significant injuries who would not necessarily have survived before, creating physiological and physical trauma in their post-war lives.

Effects of PTSD

Nationwide, only about 8 percent of the five million Veterans using VA care have been diagnosed with the disorder. For those left undiagnosed and ultimately untreated, PTSD can have life-altering consequences, including hospitalization, unemployment, and poverty.

About 30 percent of Veterans with untreated PTSD, tend to have a chronic life course: they tend to have failed marriages, be indigent, and have a number of medical problems. It’s cascading: You lose your job and then your marriage falls apart. It tends to accumulate.

PTSD Treatment Options

Antidepressants have been the central focus of pharmacotherapy research in PTSD, but better treatments are greatly needed.

One of the most frequently cited barriers to veterans getting timely and adequate care for PTSD is the social stigma associated with mental illness. Veterans may feel ashamed and embarrassed to seek treatment, perceive mental illness as a sign of a weakness, or feel that it is possible to “tough it out” on their own, without assistance.

By working at both the community level we can make changes that will make it easier for veterans to recognize that they need help and then to seek help.

Warning Signs for PTSD

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Many Veterans can be highly resistant to the admission of war related illness due to the consequences it may bring. These consequences are very real, and the impact can be deep and affect the veteran and their family with long lasting and devastating effects.

If a veteran starts to notice his/her OWN behaviors that are worrisome or cause for concern, he/she will most likely choose one of these routes:

To recognize something is wrong but be cautious about who they tell and the amount of detail that they share.

Information shared will be on a need-to-know basis, meaning that if the veteran feels that he or his family is threatened in any way, he/she will share only what they believe is safe to share. Many times, important information needed for diagnosis is LEFT OUT due to this fear.

They “bite the bullet” and/or “suck it up and drive on” which means, that they will ignore all danger signs of the illness.

This is especially problematic during the initial stages of illness when, if faced, there could be meaningful intervention and support AND may help the veteran avoid other related problems, like self-medication through alcohol and drug abuse.

The veteran is actually not aware that he/she has changed or is acting any differently. This is sometimes called denial.

Due to any number of reasons, sometimes veterans actually believe that nothing is wrong with them. This could be because they have become unable to gauge their own feelings. It could be that they are afraid to face the fact that something is wrong for fear of what may happen to them or to their family. One way or another, a veteran who may be behaving differently than pre-deployment, is simply unable or unwilling to admit a problem.

Veterans may be concerned about being invalidated or minimized if they speak up.

Veterans have become experts in “sucking it up” and enduring to stay safe and alert in a war zone. It often takes some time when they return home, to begin to understand that they might need help. They are often concerned that IF and WHEN they do seek help, they may be told that ‘it is all in their head” which further distances them from seeking help and often validates their own self-talk that they are weak, when in fact, it takes the courage of a warrior to ASK for help.

Being overwhelmed by not knowing a specific point of contact to seek help.

Sometimes, even when a vet is ready and willing to take the risk to seek help, they are often overwhelmed at how difficult it is, and lack of personal contact in seeking help. After mustering up the courage to ask for help, they may not even know where to start and this just makes it easier to do nothing than to try to figure out where to get help without getting overwhelmed even further.

Being a single veteran with custody of children.

Many veterans will not disclose that they are becoming ill for fear of losing their rights and access to their children.  To many of them, admitting that they have a war-related illness may seem like they are jeopardizing the most important thing in their lives, their children.

Social support is key

Veterans may see their peers struggling as well and not realize there is a problem for which they can seek help. Not surprisingly, Veterans who realize they have a problem and are positive about treatment also tend to have strong social support from family, friends, or other Veterans.

Our Program

Undersea Warriors uses a 3-step program to introduce and guide Veterans through recreational/adaptive and marine conservation diving in a gradual and controlled manner to give them the opportunity to experience the sense of peace that comes from Scuba activities along with a sense of purpose - marine conservation. 

Our mission is to not only provide the veterans the training to participate in an activity with proven health benefits but to give them a sense of purpose as well by participating in marine conservation efforts. This program provides the Veteran an opportunity to socialize with fellow veterans and scuba divers while impacting the environment. The conservation divers remove plastic and other waste from rivers, lakes and the ocean. Additionally, they will have opportunities to dive in aquariums and interact with fish, dolphins and turtles while cleaning the tanks.

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