Just because a wound is invisible, doesn’t mean it isn’t deep or that it doesn’t need to be cared for.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an invisible wound and a mental health condition some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Traumatic events are any deeply distressing or disturbing experience, such as combat, sexual assault, the loss of a loved one or receiving a severe injury.
“Ultimately, it is one possible reaction to surviving a traumatic experience,” said Maj. Laura Johnson, 341st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health flight commander. “Our brains and bodies are built to recover—but sometimes things get in the way of recovery, like ongoing trauma, our own thoughts, or avoidance.”
According to Dr. David Klajic, 341st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron clinical psychologist, PTSD can occur from a single, traumatic incident, or can be caused by the cumulative effects of multiple incidents or sustained exposure.
“All humans experience stress and almost all humans experience trauma at some point in their lives,” Johnson said. “Not all humans experience PTSD, though they may have some of the symptoms of it in the immediate aftermath of the trauma—like thinking about it constantly or having anxiety when reminded of it.”
Some symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, fatigue, poor self-care, having trouble sleeping, or insomnia and feeling anxious, irritable, frustrated, angry or depressed.
“No two sufferers experience or manifest the exact same symptoms,” Klajic said. “The bottom line is, you never know how someone is going to deal with an event until they do.”
Johnson said that one misconception about PTSD is it’s the only response to trauma. Other possible responses include relationship difficulties, depression or anxiety, eating disorders or even recovery.
“Trauma is a shock to our system and every individual handles that differently,” she said.
According to the National Center for PTSD, eight million people in the United States currently live with PTSD.
“People who think they might have PTSD should seek help because PTSD is extraordinarily painful, and recovery is truly possible,” Johnson said. “That is reason enough.”
One frequently-cited reason that Airmen don’t seek help when they have a mental health concern is because they worry it will negatively impact their career. According to the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, 94 percent of Airmen who received PTSD treatment continued to progress in their career.
“The sooner you get started, the more likely the intervention will work,” Klajic said. “Our brains are built to recover from these things and sometimes we just need a little help doing that.”
Some evidence-based treatments for PTSD include prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, stress inoculation training and treatment with specific, effective medications.
“For someone who has been through trauma and wants to talk about it, there are lots of resources available,” Johnson said. “However, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, you would benefit from specialty mental health care in order to recover—either through the mental health clinic on base or off-base through a referral from your PCM or mental health.”
Some of the recovery resources include chaplains, military and family life counselors, the sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocates, the Family Advocacy Program, the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocacy Program, the Behavioral Health Optimization Program through your primary care manager, military one source, or a counselor through the Give An Hour program.
“Our mission in the 341st Medical Group overall is to be a ready medical force, be able to deploy as medics, and to ensure our base is a medically ready force, that their bodies and minds are healthy and ready for the mission,” Johnson said. “Mental health fits cleanly into that mission—we help people be mentally ready. We do this through prevention activities and through treatment when members do have mental health needs.”
“I love seeing people get better. PTSD is my clinical specialty, and seeing people who have been struggling with PTSD for years do short-term therapy and get better is amazing,” Johnson said. “It is the best part of my job.”