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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that affects a disproportionate percentage of the military population, particularly within those populations of veterans who have served in combat deployments. This mental disorder manifests within patients in various ways, but is often triggered by events or perceived events that are associated with the patient’s own traumatic event. Comorbidity with other disorders, such as substance abuse disorders, is also common in many patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, often making treatment methods difficult. As a social worker, it is imperative to know the symptoms of PTSD and remain current regarding effective treatments so clients can be given the best available resources for the disorder’s management.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental illness that many veterans endure after experiencing the stresses and witnessing traumas during combat deployments. This mental condition is not limited to the exposure to combat-related trauma; Fry (2016) noted that this problem “develops following exposure to a stressful event or a situation of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature” (para. 1). Characteristics of this disorder include “increased tension, reliving the traumatic event and avoidance of stimuli related to the traumatic event” (Fokkens et al., 2015, p. 569). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) also addressed other cognitive alterations, such as detachment or disinterest in activities or loved ones and a distorted perception about themselves or others.
For combat veterans, Allen, Crawford, and Kudler (2016) found PTSD to be the Department of Veterans Affairs leading diagnosis. It is now estimated that up to 30 percent of veterans who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan have post-traumatic stress disorder.
The impact and experiences of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder is rarely limited to the veteran. While most research has focused on the PTSD victim, it is also important to note the devastating effect that the disorder has on the victim’s immediate family as well. Yambo et al. (2016) found in a study of military spouses a radically changed life after a return or returns from combat deployment. Concurrent treatment for both the PTSD patient and their spouses and children can provide significant benefits by strengthening family resiliency and expediting the management of PTSD symptoms.
Researchers are also noting that simultaneously occurring disorders with a PTSD diagnosis can further complicate treatment efforts. In their findings, Allen et al. (2016) found that alcohol abuse co-occurred often with both men and women with PTSD, suggesting that alcohol abuse was often used as a “self-medication” method of coping with PTSD symptoms (135). Throughout the military population in general, the rate of alcohol abuse is disproportionately large, many soldiers self-reported an increase of alcohol abuse after exposure to intense combat situations (Allen et al., 2017).
Popular treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder include both psychotherapeutic and pharmacological approaches. The use of Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been found effective for the treatment of PTSD (Allen et al., 2017). In controlled environments and using different methods, patients are confronted with triggering stimuli and taught methods that will enable them to cope with those stimuli outside their clinical settings (Allen et al., 2017).
It is imperative for social workers to recognize co-occurring diagnoses when evaluating clients for treatment and additional resources.
Allen, J. P., Crawford, E. F., & Kudler, H. (2016). Nature and treatment of comorbid alcohol problems and post-traumatic stress disorder among American military personnel and veterans. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(1), 133-140.
Fokkens, A. S., Groothoff, J. W., van der Klink, J. J. L., Popping, R., Stewart, R. E., van de Ven, L., Brouwer, S., & Tuinstra, J. (2015). The mental disability military assessment tool: A reliable tool for determining disability in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 25(3), 569-576.
Fry, M. (2016). Post traumatic stress disorder. Practice Nurse, 46(2), 30-34.
Wade, N. R. (2016). Integrating cognitive processing therapy and spirituality for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in the military. Social Work & Christianity, 43(3), 59-72.
Yambo, T. W., Johnson, M. E., Delaney, K. R., Hamilton, R., Miller, A. M., & York, J. A. (2016). Experiences of military spouses of veterans with combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 48(6), 543-551.
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