You know the adage, walk a mile in my shoes. Well, the truth is that for most civilians, combat Post Traumatic Stress is a mystery. We really do not understand much beyond what we see in movies or read in articles, unless we are living with a veteran.
Called by any of its names, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome or post-traumatic stress, this condition can impact a veteran for his or her life. Yes, life. And it is not a one-size-fits all situation.
Bottom line – there are some things you should know, which we’ve explored below. But first, let’s discuss what you may not realize about PTSD:
- PTSD is a condition that develops after someone has experienced an extreme situation, such as combat.
- People with combat PTSD will have experiences for weeks or months. If left untreated, experiences may occur indefinitely after the events are over, even if the individual is in a safe environment.
- Symptoms may include flashbacks, but not always.
- The person’s daily routine will be impacted, regardless of how they experience PTSD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least one month:
- One re-experiencing symptom – this includes flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts.
- One avoidance symptom – staying away from places, events or objects that serve as reminders, or simply avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the events.
- Two arousal and reactivity symptoms – being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping and angry outbursts. These are typically constant, rather than triggered.
- Two cognition and mood symptoms – difficulty remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about themselves or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, or loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
How a person experiences traumatic events is unique, and therefore difficult to determine how a person will react. After years of talking with veterans, here are some things that may help you better understand the challenges of PTSD, and generally acclimating into civilian life:
- Because each person is unique, his or her combat experience will impact them in a way you cannot understand. Don’t judge and be patient.
- The treatments often received through traditional methods do not alleviate symptoms, but rather mask them. For example, the number of drugs many of these veterans are on put them in a “fog” rather than providing a solid coping mechanism. They need more.
- They probably don’t want to talk, so don’t make them. Therefore, traditional therapy has limitations on the success.
- Expecting them to re-acclimate to their home environment simply because it’s more peaceful, aka outside of the combat zone, is unrealistic. The pressure of feeling like they must acclimate quickly makes the situation worse.
Supporting a loved one struggling with PTSD is not easy, but there are solutions that can provide relief.
Here’s What You Should Know
There is hope. Whether you are someone struggling to overcome PTSD or living with someone in this situation, there are ways to get relief. And it can be pleasant!
Heroes on the Water was one of the participants in a study performed by Troy University, and the outcome of the study was simple, but powerful:
Outdoor therapy, such as therapeutic kayak fishing, provides relief of PTSD and TBI symptoms, regardless of how long the person has experienced them.
The results of the study showed that therapeutic kayak fishing resulted in:
- 56% reduction in overall stress
- 62% reduction in hypervigilance
- 63% reduction in avoidance behavior
“One of the major benefits of the HOW kayak fishing program is we believe in inviting our veterans and families back for repeat experiences,” said Bill Carnegie, HOW Chief Executive Officer. “This provides an opportunity for them to continue to experience all the results, plus the camaraderie of networking with their fellow veteran community.”
Just like anyone who is not feeling 100%, our veterans struggling with PTSD don’t always want to be around others. The safe haven provided by organizations like Heroes on the Water ensures they are in an environment that is positive for them, no matter their situation.
“We always make sure our vets and families feel comfortable,” said Amber Helms, HOW Area Coordinator. “If you want to kayak, great. If you want to fish from the bank, perfect. If you want to just observe and stand back, that’s perfectly fine. We meet our veterans where they are, and provide opportunities for them to participate, or not, without any pressure.”
Whether you participate in an event with one of our 80 plus chapters around the United States, or find another organization that yields positive results, it’s certainly worth the time and energy to support a veteran in participating in environmental outdoor therapy.
As a civilian, you have an opportunity to volunteer, donate, or simply spread the word. The truth is many individuals do not understand all the nuances of PTSD. We are proud to both support our troops by providing alternative therapy and opportunities for our warriors to rehabilitate, reintegrate and refocus on their lives.
PTSD never takes a break, and never allows our warriors to relax in a way that is healthy. Triggers for extreme PTSD episodes are all around, from pressure to get a job to a seemingly innocuous 4th of July fireworks celebration. To support our nation’s veterans in need, please take a moment to donate to Heroes on the Water. The ability to provide these free therapeutic kayak experiences is important to the lives of our veterans, active-duty military and their families.