June was PTSD Awareness Month. And although spotlighting it throughout the month of June brings a lot of great information to the public, it is important to remember that PTSD is something that many individuals struggle with throughout the year.
Take the Fourth of July as an example: This great American holiday is only four days past the end of PTSD Awareness Month, but many people are not aware of the impact this holiday has on combat veterans with PTSD. For many of them, these exuberant displays of sound and light trigger combat flashbacks that last long after the last sparkler has fizzed out for the night.
This year, there has been more publicity around the effect that fireworks can have on returned vets. And there has been a growing campaign to increase PTSD awareness by placing signs in front lawns that read: "Combat Veteran Lives Here, Please Be Courteous with Your Fireworks." The experience of combat veterans on the Fourth of July is a prime example of the type of awareness that needs to continue beyond the month of June, and that is an awareness that centers on respect for those who suffered trauma in the past, and who continue to feel the effects to this day.
That being said, it’s hard to know how to be courteous of those with PSTD when you don’t have a very firm grasp on what PTSD is. Although it is most commonly associated with combat veterans – and vets as a population experience PTSD at a much higher rate – it also occurs in those who have lived through other violent experiences. The National Center for PTSD defines it as "a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, an accident or disaster."
Understanding that PTSD is not limited only to combat veterans is an important step in learning how to be mindful of things that may trigger flashbacks or any other cognitive or bodily symptoms. Things that might seem part of the norm – like fireworks on the Fourth of July – can actually cause a painful reliving of a traumatic moment.
The way each person experiences their PTSD is different, and the only way to be able to really get a grasp on what these individuals experience is through talking with them. However, it is understandably difficult for many to recount their stories, so it is important to be patient and supportive. Reach out if you see that your friend or family member with PTSD wants to talk and be sure to listen to their story.
If you or a loved one struggles with PTSD, or if you just want to learn more about how you can help support someone with PTSD, the Department of Veterans Affairs' websie has a comprehensive section devoted to the condition, the National Center for PTSD (ptsd.va.gov). The section has resources for everything from treatment options like exposure therapy to a section specifically geared toward friends and family members.
Also, let people know that treatment is covered! The Affordable Care Act requires qualified health plans to include mental health services as an essential health benefit. The ACA also outlaws discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, so individuals with PTSD or other mental health symptoms need not be worried that they will be denied coverage or that their coverage will be cancelled.
This year’s PTSD Awareness Month motto was aptly put and is something to keep in mind throughout the year: "Learn. Connect. Share. PTSD treatment can help." Connect by reaching out to someone around you. And finally, share your experiences and knowledge with others.
By Julia Ortner
To learn more:
- Explosion of Kindness – yard sign campaign
- For Vets With PTSD, Fireworks Can Trigger Painful Memories – at CBS Minnesota
- National Center for PTSD – at the VA