Many military veterans experience PTSD upon returning home. This is an understandable, and to some degree, normal response to the horrors of combat. Unfortunately, veterans are often proud individuals who wish to embody virtues like strength, reliability, and faith. These are most certainly positive traits—the kind of characteristics that inspire people to serve their country – unless you are dealing with an invisible wound.
These are also the traits that can prevent veterans from seeking the help they need to deal with mental health issues. Many are reluctant to seek treatment, feeling as though doing so would be a demonstration of weakness. These PTSD sufferers want to continue to play a strong role in the lives of their families, friends, and overall communities hiding any reason to worry about them.
The problem is, without treatment, PTSD will continue to have a negative impact on every aspect of a returning military member’s life. That’s why it’s important to learn about other admirable figures who also cope with mental health issues after coming home from combat situations. Identifying with others can reduce the feelings of shame that prevent many veterans from getting the essential help they so desperately need.
The subject of the popular film American Sniper, Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty in Iraq. Despite performing beyond expectations while deployed, Kyle was not able to avoid the scars that combat experiences can leave on a veteran’s psyche.
Between and after his tours of duty, Kyle often struggled with the effects of PTSD. He had many sleepless nights and would frequently use alcohol attempting to manage his symptoms. Fortunately, Kyle was able to overcome his mental health challenges. He started working with other veterans who were also living with PTSD. By helping others recover, he was able to help himself as well.
In fact, many effective PTSD programs take this communal approach. In doing so, they give veterans the opportunity to work through problems as a team. After all, military personnel are accustomed to working in groups to achieve a larger goal. That’s why organizations like REBOOT and SAFE provide them with opportunities to help one another heal the mental and spiritual wounds that war often leaves behind.
Running for Congress in 2016, candidate Sean Barney took a unique approach during his campaign: openly discussing the PTSD he experienced after serving as a Marine in the Iraq War. Although Barney did admit that the tactic was risky (and it may have contributed to his eventual loss), he felt it was necessary to take a stand while he had substantial media attention and a platform. Barney expressed the belief that veterans need more access to treatment and resources. Knowing that he might not win the election, Barney took the opportunity through his campaign to shine a spotlight on how PTSD affected him personally.
Barney made it clear that he was one of the fortunate veterans who receive the treatment they need. However, many others are not as lucky. For example, a member of Barney’s platoon, who was struggling with these demons of combat, took his own life a year prior to the campaign.
Barney’s choice to openly discuss his PTSD is a step in the right direction. Those who may have the power to enact policy changes should use their roles to help voters learn more about this real problem with our veterans. By deciding to share with voters his struggles, Barney helped reduce much of the stigma surrounding PTSD.
Our understanding of PTSD has greatly improved in the last few decades. Not long ago, those suffering from the condition were dismissed as struggling with mere “shell shock.” Experts now agree that many of these individuals were actually afflicted with PTSD. In fact, famous actor Jimmy Stewart is likely to have been one veteran who experienced PTSD during an era when proper treatment was not readily available.
Interviews with veterans who served with Stewart indicate that he likely struggled with the condition, not only after returning home, but also during his time in combat. Like many military personnel, Stewart wasn’t simply concerned with his own safety; instead, he worried excessively that he might make a mistake that would endanger others.
Despite all this, Stewart was able to forge a successful career as one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors. Like many others, he was affected by his experiences in the war. However, his struggles did not prevent him from living a rich, full life.
If you or someone you know is living with PTSD related to military service, know that there is hope, and there is certainly no shame in asking for help. It’s natural for human beings to react this way to trauma. That doesn’t mean the condition needs to define anyone.