It is believed that 10% of all Afghanistan veterans and 20% of all Iraq veterans are affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is something that people like Meredith Iler, who runs the Helping a Hero charity, feel very passionate about. She understands that when someone experiences the real trauma of war, they face psychological pain above and beyond that trauma.
Understanding the Real Problem with PTSD
PTSD has been and continues to be actively studied, and for good reason. However, it is difficult to comprehend exactly what it is, and how it affects people. Afghanistan and Iraq veterans alike have far higher PTSD rates than those in previous wars, even when considering the condition was poorly understood then. In previous wars, it was known as combat fatigue and shell-shock. What is now suggested, however, is that PSTD is not caused solely by experiences in the war zone.
What makes matters worse, it is now known, is that soldiers come home to a society they are disconnected from, leaving them feeling isolated. Western society is lonely and individualistic, in sharp contrast to army life, where people are close and connected. This means that they simply lack the support network they have come to rely on once they return home.
Those who have been able to talk about their experience report moments of paralyzing fear, panic attacks, and constant nightmares. They also experience anxiety, flashbacks, and depression. Many also lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. This has all been documented by the National Institute of Mental Health, who also warn that PTSD continues to be poorly understood.
An added problem is that people other than veterans experience problems. For instance, the U.S. Navy completed a study that showed that even those who did not experience any active duty combat could experience PTSD. This was due to the wealth of other “combat stressors” they were subjected to.
The theory is, therefore, that the experiences someone has when they are in a war zone are a significant part of the problem, but that the issue is far bigger than that. Specifically, it is what happens when someone returns to civilian life that causes the real problems. This may also be why, with so many veterans, the PTSD score increases six months after they have returned.
Being in the army is akin to being part of a tribe. Soldiers fight together, eat, sleep, and breathe together. Then, suddenly, they return to society as it is in the west, where it is a rat race and every man for himself. The only support network people truly have is their small family unit, since people now live in isolation even from their direct neighbors. This alienation from society is believed to be why so many veterans volunteer for second tours, missing being in the war zone. It is not the combat they miss, but the community in which they feel home.
PTSD and alienation are, naturally, very different. However, they are closely related and it is believed that alienation can make PTSD worse.