Many veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may think that they don’t deserve to be diagnosed or treated because they were not in combat. They may feel guilty, ashamed, or isolated because they believe that their trauma is not as valid or severe as those who faced combat. They may also face stigma or disbelief from others who don’t understand the variety and complexity of non-combat PTSD stressors.
However, non-combat PTSD is a real and serious mental health condition that can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event while serving in the military. Non-combat PTSD can result from events such as:
- Sexual assault or harassment (also known as military sexual trauma or MST)
- Physical assault or abuse
- Training accidents or injuries
- Death of a friend, colleague, or loved one
- Natural disasters or humanitarian crises
- Exposure to toxic substances or environmental hazards
Non-combat PTSD can cause symptoms such as:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories of the trauma
- Anxiety, panic, or hypervigilance
- Anger, irritability, or aggression
- Depression, sadness, or hopelessness
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Difficulty trusting or connecting with others
- Feeling numb or detached from emotions
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Substance abuse or self-harm
Non-combat PTSD can interfere with a veteran’s daily functioning, relationships, work, and quality of life. It can also increase the risk of developing other physical or mental health problems, such as chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, suicide, or other psychiatric disorders.
Non-combat PTSD is often underdiagnosed and undertreated compared to combat-related PTSD. This may be due to several factors, such as:
- Lack of awareness or recognition of non-combat PTSD among veterans and health care providers
- Difficulty accessing mental health services or finding providers who specialize in non-combat PTSD
- Fear of stigma, discrimination, or retaliation from peers, superiors, or family members
- Concerns about confidentiality or privacy of personal information
- Belief that non-combat PTSD is not a legitimate disability or that it can be overcome by willpower
Non-combat PTSD is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Veterans who suffer from non-combat PTSD deserve respect, compassion, and support. They also deserve to receive effective treatment that can help them heal and recover from their trauma.
There are various treatment options available for non-combat PTSD, such as:
- Psychotherapy: This involves talking with a trained therapist who can help the veteran process their trauma, cope with their symptoms, and improve their functioning and well-being. There are different types of psychotherapy that have been proven to be effective for non-combat PTSD, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and group therapy.
- Medication: This involves taking prescribed drugs that can help reduce the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms. There are different types of medication that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating non-combat PTSD, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and prazosin.
- Complementary and alternative therapies: These involve using non-traditional methods that can enhance the effects of psychotherapy and medication. There are different types of complementary and alternative therapies that have been shown to be beneficial for non-combat PTSD, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, art therapy, and animal-assisted therapy.
Veterans who think they may have non-combat PTSD should not hesitate to seek help. They can start by talking to their primary care provider, contacting their local VA facility , calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, or visiting the National Center for PTSD website for more information and resources.
Non-combat PTSD is not something to be ashamed of or to suffer alone. It is a treatable condition that can be overcome with proper care and support. Veterans who have non-combat PTSD are not alone. They are part of a community of survivors who share similar experiences and challenges. They are also part of a community of helpers who are ready to offer them hope and healing.