New studies are showing a drop in the number of soldiers returning home with PTSD.
A new study shows the number of American troops with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is falling thanks to new training and treatment. After early estimates suggested PTSD could affect up to 30% of troops, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan appear to have a much lower incidence.
In a survey, 4.3% of all American troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD. Of those that saw combat the numbers were slightly higher at 7.6%. Part of this drop can be attributed to new army training and post deployment care designed to protect soldiers from PTSD.
“As a society we’re much more aware of these issues than ever before,” Harvard professor of psychology, Dr. Richard McNally said. “That is reflected by the fact that the military and the Veteran’s Administration has established programs to ensure soldiers receive the best treatment possible. The title of my article is ‘Are We Winning the War Against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?’ I think a provisional answer to that is, ‘Yes, we might be.’”
Another explanation for the difference between the actual and predicted incidence of PTSD could be the type of war currently being fought. The predictions for PTSD were based on the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam. In that war, over the course of a decade, 55,000 US troops were killed, compared with the 5,000 US troops kill over the same period in Iraq. This is almost certainly a factor in the lower number of PTSD cases. Unfortunately, many troops are still affected.
“It’s important to remember that simply being deployed carries a great deal of stress,” McNally said. “Soldiers miss their family, and those who stay at home essentially become a one-parent family. Difficulties with children, or school, or making ends meet — there are all kinds of stressors that have to do with separating families, let along having one member in a war zone. Fortunately, the military has taken steps to help soldiers cope with these stressors in addition to the traumatic combat stressors that can produce PTSD.”
Possibly the most important of these steps are Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which prepares and hardens troops against PTSD and Battlemind training, which helps treat those at risk for PTSD upon their return.
“It’s not therapy per se, but a preventive intervention to help people put their experiences in perspective,” McNally said. “For example, it encourages soldiers to use the sort of emotional bonding that happens within units to reconnect with their families, and to see symptoms like hypervigilance not as symptoms of a mental disorder, but as something they need to adjust when they come home. It helps people realize that those things are part of the normal readjustment process.”
These new training regimes seem to be working. Random trials of soldiers who underwent Battlemind training show that four months after they returned home, these men and women were at a lower risk for PTSD.
While this does not mean soldiers are impervious to PTSD, it is a step in the right direction. Greater acceptance of the condition and new treatments are helping wounded warriors recover and regain the life they once had.