How to Watch for Signs of Trauma in a Combat Veteran

How to Watch for Signs of Trauma in a Combat Veteran

A group of people who are highly susceptible to trauma are combat veterans. These men and women engage in a tenuous, risky, potentially life-altering lifestyle each and every day that they are in combat. They witness or participate in activities many of us will never have to do. As a result, many combat veterans can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To understand how to watch for signs of trauma in a combat veteran, you may want to learn more about the characteristics of PTSD, signs and symptoms of PTSD, and steps to take if you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD.

Characteristics of PTSD

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a resource for many issues that impact our male and female veterans. The post, “PTSD Symptoms,” provides information about the general characteristics of PTSD, including the following:

  • Reliving the event – People who experience this characteristic find that memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place. You may have nightmares or you may have a flashback when you feel like you are going through the event again. In addition, you may experience a trigger where something you see, hear or smell causes you to relive the event. Triggers for veterans often include news reports, seeing an accident or hearing a car backfire.
  • Avoidance – This characteristic is represented by people attempting to avoid people or situations that may be a trigger that reminds them of the event. You may avoid crowds because they feel dangerous. You may avoid driving if your military convoy was bombed. You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.
  • Negativity – Because of the traumatic event, people may experience a negative change in beliefs and feelings. These feelings can range from not having loving feelings towards other people to an extreme of believing that the world is a completely dangerous place and that no one can be trusted. Often people who are affected by this negativity forget about parts of the traumatic event or are unable to talk about them.
  • Hyperarousal – This characteristic is represented by people feeling keyed up, jittery or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. People who experience this characteristic often have a hard time sleeping, have trouble concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise, and be vigilant with regards to their environment.

While these are the four major characteristics of PTSD, some people experience one, while others may experience two, three or all four. Severity of PTSD is not determined by the number of characteristics a person experiences but rather by how significantly PTSD is negatively affecting her mental and emotional health, and her ability to engage in a meaningful life.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

If you have a family member or a loved one who is a combat veteran, you may not be able to quickly identify which of the primary PTSD characteristics your loved one is experiencing. However, Make the Connection, a group of veterans and supporters provides information about the signs and symptoms of PTSD in their post, “PTSD,” which makes note of the following:

  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about
  • Becoming depressed
  • Thinking that you are always in danger
  • Experiencing a sense of panic that something bad is about to happen
  • Having a hard time relating to and getting along with your spouse, family or friends
  • Consistent drinking or use of drugs to numb your feelings
  • Consider harming yourself or others
  • Start working all the time to occupy your mind
  • Pull away from other people and become isolated

In addition, there are some factors that can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, such as the intensity of the trauma, being hurt or losing a loved one during the event, being physically close to the traumatic event, feeling you were not in control, and having a lack of support after the event.

Recovering from PTSD

Struggling with PTSD can be debilitating. However, there are several things that you can do to get started recovering from PTSD. In the Helpguide.org post, “PTSD in Military Veterans,” you learn some constructive behaviors including the following:

  • Exercise – As well as helping to burn off adrenaline, exercise can release endorphins and make you feel better, both mentally and physically.
  • Connect with others – Find someone you can talk to for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing or continually being distracted by outside interferences.
  • Physical and mental health – Be sure to eat properly, get plenty of rest and find things that can help you relax, such as gardening, yoga or meditation.
  • Seek professional help – CBT and EMDR are professional treatment strategies that trained counselors can use to help you process through the thoughts, feelings and behaviors associated with PTSD.

Just by taking those first steps, you can start on the road to recovery from PTSD.

Get Help to Learn More About How to Watch for Signs of Trauma in a Combat Veteran

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