CASTING LIGHT ON THE INVISIBLE WOUNDS OF WAR Injured Warriors Still Combating Mental Health Challenges By Vesta Anderson
It could be the smell of fresh wheat bread in a kitchen, the chirping of crickets on a hot night, or even the cold touch of a puppy’s curious nose – within moments of experiencing any of these senses, one would instantly recall memories connected to such prompts. One would become unintentionally and instantly flooded with memories, the power of which could remain for seconds, minutes, or even days. Experiences and memories make us who we are as individuals. They make our interactions with others unique, impacting and changing groups, even communities. They help us self-identity, revealing what brings us joy, sorrow, pain, and even fear.
The Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Combat Recovery team explains that when memories are too painful to recall, warriors may self-medicate and withdraw from family, friends, and community. In large part, shame and guilt are two triggers that make it difficult for a warrior to cope with daily life as it negatively impacts his or her confidence, hope, and sense of worth.
No soul is immune to such basic human nature – not even a soldier at war can be safe from the mind’s inevitable, humanistic need to link memories of events to a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch, all in an effort to better understand what the soul experiences. The mind becomes a filing system of sorts; for combat veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the mind can become its own enemy. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD is a mental health condition that can happen to anyone who has suffered through a traumatic event, directly or indirectly. In combat situations, the mind is still reacting instinctively, collecting and storing memories that can be excruciatingly difficult for the warrior to endure during the inevitable recall process. Therefore, the mind’s “filing system” and unintentional memory recall, can elicit great harm to a combat veteran’s mental health and wellbeing. Veterans suffering from PTSD have recalling prompts, typically referred to as triggers, which are linked to situational or emotional experiences and memories from the combat zone. For instance, soldiers with PTSD may hear the sound of popcorn popping or fireworks exploding and recall an improvised explosive device attack, or a random experience of anger, sadness, or anxiety can trigger them to relive the experience and emotion from losing a friend in combat. With advancements in battlefield medicine and technology, an unprecedented percentage of service members are surviving combat injuries that would have previously been fatal. To date, more than 52,000 service members have been physically wounded in the current conflicts, and it is estimated that as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war, including combat stress, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, and PTSD. While these injuries are considered to be the invisible wounds of war, with increased awareness, symptoms could become more noticeable, and treatment more accessible. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD has four types of symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and hyperarousal.
HOMELAND / May 2015