The Mental Health of Veterans and First Responders
Unfortunately, in the civilian world, mental health awareness for veterans and first responders is severely lacking. Annually there may be an article written, often glossing over or entirely misrepresenting what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder looks like in veterans and retired/discharged first responders, but otherwise, there is little said.
PTSD and C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are not the only disorders to be aware of and cautious of with veterans and first responders, though they are prevalent.
Struggling to Adapt
Veterans and First Responders post discharge or retirement will almost universally struggle to re-acclimate to civilian life. That in and of itself is not a disorder, though there may be an adjustment period with disordered thoughts or behaviors. (That is quite literally referred to as an Adjustment Disorder, and the symptoms of an Adjustment Disorder are often healed with time and patience, and usually within a 6-12 month period)
Mental Health Awareness for veterans and first responders is more than knowing the acronyms. There can be signs of mental health struggles and no way to clearly label them, and self-diagnosing is already a difficult task with limited information available to the general public about how diagnoses are made. The stigma around PTSD and C-PTSD make this an even larger issue to battle, simply because exposure to a traumatic event does not mean that person will have PTSD or C-PTSD.
The truth is, you don’t have to know the DSM in and out to know when someone is struggling with thoughts or behaviors that require intervention.
If there are thoughts, compulsions, urges, behaviors uncharacteristic of you or the person you’re worried about, and these thoughts, compulsions, urges and behaviors are having a sudden, direct, and measurably poor effect on their day-to-day life, it’s time for intervention.
A disorder of any kind is most simply defined as a set of symptoms that interrupt and otherwise make it difficult to impossible for a person to conduct themselves or their lives as they would like to.
So, you don’t need to be a doctor to spot disordered behaviors or thoughts; if health and happiness suddenly seems difficult to impossible to achieve, it’s time to make a call.
The Signs and Symptoms
Some signs of struggle more common in veterans and retired first responders are:
Re-experiencing can present as flashbacks, nightmares or night terrors, repetitive or intrusive thoughts about traumatic experiences, or psychosomatic symptoms (sudden and strange ailments that cannot be assigned to another cause).
Everyone avoids stuff from time to time, but avoidance, as all behaviors, exists on a sliding scale of severity. If avoidance for you or the person you’re worried about includes withdrawing and isolating, stonewalling, outright denial to discuss the past or their present emotional state, abandoning projects or commitments altogether with little or no warning – then it’s time to intervene.
Avoidance can also feature numbing behaviors; behaviors that help the person push down and away any unpleasant feelings or thoughts. This can look like overindulgence in addictive substances, foods or behaviors.
Being ‘on edge,’ more of the time than not, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, irritability, issues or lapses with memory or concentration, uncharacteristic emotional outbursts, and/or sleeping disturbances.
Sudden or uncharacteristic problems controlling or regulating emotions, finding it difficult to allow for emotional intimacy with friends, family or spouses/partners, severe interpersonal conflicts, being overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness, shame and/or guilt.
Other symptoms of a worsening condition might be signs more typical of depression, generalized anxiety, or phobic behavior may even crop up suddenly. No matter what the symptoms are, if they’re interfering with you or your loved one’s ability to function and thrive, reach out for help.
There are a multitude of therapeutic approaches that can help you or your veteran/retiree during this time, so call our team to schedule an appointment if you’re feeling like you could use that extra support.
At Central Arkansas Group Counseling, we are uniquely equipped to help you, as a veteran, first responder, or spouse/child thereof. We are so glad to serve you, and there are so many resources available to help you through this difficult time, so don’t hesitate to give a call and make a visit.