Although a relatively large number of combat veterans have been diagnosed with varying degrees of PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it’s not always obvious to onlookers whether a person has the condition. In fact, it’s not uncommon for veterans to hide their diagnosis or symptoms of the disorder from their loved ones.
That’s why it’s important to understand some of the reasons why veterans may not speak up about their struggles with PTSD. If the general public can better understand PTSD, then the more they can help veterans to communicate their needs and seek treatment.
Of course, the individual reasons why veterans may be reluctant to discuss their condition vary, but it’s also worth noting that there are many who are more than willing to ask for help when they need it. That said, those who neglect to ask for help do share some similar reasons for not discussing their symptoms. The following is just a few examples:
Fear of Stigma
Although the average person today likely understands PTSD much better than the average person 50 years ago, there is still room for improvement in educating the public about the condition. Pop culture depictions of PTSD often result in people associating the condition with violent or aggressive behavior, particularly in veterans who’ve been engaged in physical activity in order to survive. While this symptom can afflict many, it’s not a universal element of the PTSD experience, nor is it a symptom that can’t be managed.
Unfortunately, this stigma prevents some veterans from comfortably talking about their experiences with PTSD. Dexter Egleston, a former Marine and social worker who advocates for veterans with PTSD, explains that many with the condition are anxious about how others will perceive them if they disclose they have the disorder. Not only can this prevent them from getting help, but it can lead to additional anxiety about reintegrating with society upon returning home. This exacerbates an already difficult condition.
New Support System
Egleston also points out that the process of joining the military and preparing to serve in combat fundamentally changes a person. When veterans return home, they often feel as though they’ve lost their identity, and sometimes, their support system.
When you belong to a military unit, you learn to depend on those serving with you. As such, for many veterans, going back to civilian life essentially means leaving the people they turn to for support. That’s another reason why mental health experts recommend participating in support groups or programs with other veterans. These groups can restore the sense of camaraderie that veterans once had in the military. It also gives them the chance to discuss their struggles with people who can relate.
Many who choose to serve in the military are praised or thanked for their strength, self-reliance, and willingness to make a major sacrifice in service of a higher goal.
Unfortunately, focusing solely on these traits can force veterans to feel as though they’re expected to conform to a stereotype of the strong, stoic leader. They’re made to feel that admitting they may have a mental health crisis and are in need of treatment is the behavior of someone much weaker than the person they’re supposed to be.
Thus, it’s very important to make sure any veterans in your life know you wouldn’t be viewed in a diminished capacity or weak if they were to tell you they need help for a condition like PTSD. While society in general needs to abandon negative stereotypes associated with military personnel, family and friends are so very critical in having a positive impact on each veteran.
Lack of Social Support
A study designed to uncover why some veterans seek treatment and some don’t yielded several key findings. First, some factors preventing veterans from getting the care they need were obvious; for instance, veterans who face a greater geographical distance to treatment centers are less likely to seek help.
However, one of the study’s main findings was that having a social support network is key to seeking help. A primary care doctor may make the initial recommendation when a veteran with PTSD needs treatment, but friends and family often play an essential role in making sure their loved one schedules the proper appointments and sticks with a treatment plan.
If you know a veteran who you believe needs treatment for PTSD, nonprofit organizations like SAFE and REBOOT can help. They give veterans (and in many instances, their families) access to affordable and confidential counseling services. This may be the ideal option for your loved one.