While hostilities rage around the globe, many of America’s men and women in uniform are fighting a different kind of war. Although the battlefield is more subtle, this fight has the potential to be just as deadly.
With about 1,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed in soldiers weekly according to VA statistics, America’s armed forces are struggling under the extreme pressures of wartime. And, while many make it home alive, they are not coming back unscathed. As they return, a shortage of mental health counselors throughout the United States also is becoming evident.
A Look at PTSD
When someone is frightened, afraid or in danger, the body triggers split-second responses that prepare them to stand their ground or flee. The “fight-or-flight” response is crucial for survival when real dangers are near. It’s a common, and expected, reaction among soldiers in battle. With post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, however, that reaction is altered. Sufferers may experience the same “fight-or-flight” response when danger is no longer present.
The signs and symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks of the triggering event, nightmares and dark thoughts. Those with PTSD may avoid places that remind them of traumatic experiences, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. They may feel emotionally numb, may suffer from guilt or depression and may lose interest in activities that once brought them enjoyment.
Suicides, Mental Health Issues Vex Military
Even as large-scale facilities such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center open to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues, diagnosis rates continue to rise in the military.
The Washington Post reports that hundreds of suicides have been logged since 2011, related to active-duty military personnel. The Pentagon said in April 2014 that more than 155,000 U.S. troops have PTSD – about 75% of them are combat veterans.
The rate of suicides among veterans is also significantly higher than the average population, USA Today reports. The rate of suicides among veterans age 18 to 24 is about 80 per 100,000. Non-veterans of the same age had a rate of 20 per 100,000.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most commonly used to treat PTSD. This therapy focuses on the relationships developed between feelings, thoughts and behaviors. The goal is to explore patterns of thinking that may lead to self-destructive actions to identify them and modify thought patterns to improve coping abilities.
Need for Counselors on the Rise
As the need for mental health counselors to treat PTSD and other conditions rises, the number of professionals in the field is not keeping pace. Retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who now serves as the chief executive of a nonprofit organization focused on curing brain disorders, points to a national shortage of mental health professionals as one of the reasons why the military has been unsuccessful in reducing its incidence numbers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an anticipated job growth rate of 20% for mental health counselors through 2024, faster than average for all job fields.
As bleak headlines bring the military’s struggle with PTSD into the spotlight, they also illuminate the need for trained mental health counselors to help soldiers win one more battle when they return home.