Invisible Wounds: The Emotional Effects of War
February 22, 2012
The men and women who serve our country in the military come back with all kinds of wounds. Some have lost limbs. Some have taken bullets. Some don’t come back at all. But what about the invisible wounds of war? What about the ones we can’t see? They are often the most detrimental to a soldier’s life. Many returning veterans are plagued by depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It turns their world upside-down, detracting from their life and their family’s. They are no longer able to function normally, and it affects not only them, but everyone around them. Very few seek help, but even when they do, they often don’t get the support they need.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a mental disorder that presents with an “all-encompassing low mood,” “low self-esteem,” and “loss of interest… in normally enjoyable activities” (Wikipedia). According to a study by RAND (Research and Development Corporation), about 14% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans met the criteria for depression. Too many veterans of war come back with MDD. They see their friends die in front of them; they are forced to kill. They see others suffering and can only do so much to help. They feel that they haven’t done enough or haven’t done all they could have. They often feel worthless, as if they have no reason to live. They no longer find comfort in things they used to enjoy, and pull away from their family and friends. They have difficulty concentrating, and will sleep too much or too little. CJ, a blogger on “A Soldier’s Perspective,” said of his depression, “The past few years have found me scatter-brained and unfocused. I can’t concentrate on things anymore and have trouble remembering ANYTHING.” And when it gets to be too much, some soldiers can’t see any way out but death.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is “a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one’s own or someone else’s physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope” (Wikipedia). People that have PTSD often experience flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma, reliving it as if it is still happening to them. They often feel numb and try to avoid reminders of the event and their families, and they are easily startled and anxious (HelpGuide). According to a RAND study, about 14% of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan meet the criteria for PTSD. Soldiers are thrust into a world in which they cannot be weak. They must be strong at all times; never give in or break down. Scott Lee, a blogger on “A Soldier’s Perspective,” said, “We paid a price to be superman in the moment, to perform flawlessly for days on end without sleep to carry or guide our guys across alien landscapes as war erupted and ripped through the dunes. We were the super soldiers in the commercials they show for brief moments of controlled fear that required our full attention or people would, and did, die.” But when soldiers come back from war, they find they cannot just be strong anymore. “With PTSD in soldiers, the sufferer will often recall and re-experience the specific trauma of war, perhaps when they dream, or when they think or close their eyes. Hallucinations are not uncommon either, with soldiers feeling as if they are back in the traumatic war environment” (Health Guidance). This is incredibly hard for soldiers to cope with in daily life. Scott Lee said of his PTSD, “I fight to separate the flashbacks from the people in reality. At times when others act defensive or passive-aggressively it triggers me, it happened today with a friend of mine. What is the appropriate response to that, ‘Excuse me, but I need a moment, all I can see right now is the bright red glare of vaporized people misting in the air’?”
The consequences of depression and PTSD in soldiers are severe. When left untreated, they can cause major problems to a soldier’s life. Soldiers affected with these conditions have higher rates of suicide and even homicide: especially when affected with PTSD, they can have flashbacks that cause them to become violent, towards themselves or others. Soldiers also lead hard lives after their deployments are over, especially with these conditions. It’s hard for them to find jobs that they can deal with along with their disorder, or ones that they can get at all. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, veterans are 50% more likely than non-vets to become homeless. The conditions also affect the soldiers’ families, often in devastating ways. “These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may expend the consequences of combat trauma across generations” (RAND). Families of soldiers that come back from war with depression often feel helpless and alone, like they can do nothing to help. Wives and husbands of veterans feel pushed away, even rejected. Children may wonder if their parent still loves them. The consequences of untreated PTSD and depression are too great to deal with alone.