PTSD is very common among military men and women. Because they are often found in high stress, intense life-or-death situation, they experience traumatic events at a higher rate than the average person.
PTSD uses a pathway in the brain that links fear to memories. This system is evolutionarily beneficial so that when we live through a stressful or traumatic event, we can process it and handle it better the next time. However, if this circuit is imbalanced, thinking about the traumatic events or a trigger stimulus can cause the body to go into stressor mode.
In the case of the military, each applicant must go through the military entrance processing station (MEPS) to get cleared for duty. This exam includes a mental health portion. However, after service according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 20/100 veterans from the Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring freedom have PTSD. It is important to note that sometimes PTSD symptoms can appear years after the traumatic event.
In order to treat PTSD, we have combination treatments involving therapy and medications such as benzodiazepines. In 2010, the DOD Pharmacoeconomic Center reported that 20% of the 1.1 active duty US troops are on some sort of antipsychotic medication. The problem with medication is that often times, because troops have many problems including insomnia, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, a cocktail of prescribed drugs can have adverse effects including substance abuse, homicidal and suicidal thoughts.
How come everyone does not experience PTSD?
This is a tough question to answer. Each person experiences different events in combat, some more traumatic than others. Some people are also more susceptible to mental illnesses such as anxiety and PTSD. This is because of something called epigenetics, or the way DNA is read and transcribed in the body. This differs in each person and is a result of their environment and exposure to different things such as stress, or second hand smoke.
What can we do about it?
We need to monitor and modify treatments for each person so that overmedicating does not occur and each patient individually. The hard thing about mental illnesses is that it varies for each person so it is important to find the right treatment plan.
We also need to continue to de-stigmatize mental illness among military populations. While in the last few years there has been a lot of progress in this area, we need to continue to reach out and educate about these issues. I think that incidents of mental illness in the military are underreported due to the stigma. If we can educate about mental illness and stomp out the stigma we can provide care and treatment plans to those that need it.
For more information: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp