Holidays can be tricky.
Some people may think of them as a time to get together with family and friends. Some may be happy about a chance to rest, relax or have a barbecue.
Yet for others, a holiday may serve as a grim reminder of events they would like to forget. This is frequently the case on Memorial Day for some of our veterans, who may be reminded of distressing memories from their tours of duty.
This is especially true for combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is defined by having intrusive, re-experiencing symptoms — including painful memories, thoughts or images and disturbing nightmares — that are frequently triggered by trauma-related cues.
These triggers can lead to the following feelings:
▪ Significant emotional distress
▪ Negative beliefs about oneself and the world, leading to mistrust of others
▪ Persistent feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, and anger
▪ Isolation from friends, family, and social activities
▪ Employing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as using alcohol and illegal drugs
▪ Symptoms of increased arousal, including irritability and anger management problems
▪ Sleep issues
▪ Engaging in high-risk behaviors
While the majority of people who develop PTSD recover within the first one to two years after the trauma exposure, a significant minority of patients — approximately 20-30 percent depending on type of trauma and degree of exposure — develop chronic and potentially debilitating problems.
These may lead to veterans’ alienation from loved ones and society, impairment in educational and employment achievements, development of additional mental health and physical problems, and persistent negative thoughts including thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, on average, 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Studies have shown that early engagement in mental health treatment, therapy, suicide prevention safety planning, and medications can save lives.
If you are concerned about the mental health of a veteran, take them to your nearest emergency room, VA hospital, Vet Center, or call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). Veterans in South Florida can call 305-575-7000 to find out about the benefits they have earned.
Dr. Daniella David is a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and chief of psychiatry and PTSD program director at the Miami VA Medical Center.