By Denise Williams, Tuesday at 1:40 pm
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a mental illness. Unfortunately, the best treatment for PTS is mental health counseling. Fortunately, mental health counseling is the best treatment for PTS. Those two opposing statements are equally valid.
It is unfortunate in that because the treatment falls under the profession of mental health, too many make the seemingly natural assumption that the ailment or issue is a mental illness. There is no question that the symptoms of this physiological disease present as emotional or psychological problems. There have been other diseases that historically were considered purely psychological or emotional that are now understood to be purely physical, too.
Take for example, menopause and pre-menstrual syndrome. Throughout the history of modern medicine, the opinion of nearly every doctor, backed by medical literature, classified these as ‘hysteria’. It wasn’t too long ago that a woman experiencing extreme pain and mood swings was told it was all in her head. Thankfully, after years of research, and more importantly, education, no one now disputes that these are biological, physiological conditions with emotional and/or psychological presentations.
The contradictory statement, it is fortunate that mental health counseling is the only treatment for PTS, is a harder sell to the military and veteran mind. Even in the wider civilian society, mental health problems are too often viewed as weakness, or even a choice. To those who have spent years training to be mentally and physically tough, admitting to a mental health disorder is particularly tough.
From day one of Basic training, troops are taught to be strong, mentally and physically. This is an absolute requirement of military training, and frankly, one that cannot and should not change. Having an Army of hypochondriacs who run crying for a bandage every time they scrape their knee would seriously undermine the capabilities of our Armed Forces. But recognizing that when the bone is sticking out through your shin that it might be time to go see the medic is just as critical; as critical as it is to understanding PTS is a physical malady.
There is no stigma attached to having a broken leg, a torn ligament or a dislocated disc. A part of your body has succumbed to the unnatural stresses placed on it. Just as no one blames a soldier who lands in a drop zone from a static line jump twenty times but on the twenty-first, his leg snaps, no one can be looked down upon when the electrical and chemical signals in the brain short out the synapses.
The fix for the broken leg is immobilization, rest and then careful rebuilding of the leg until it can again hold the weight of the body. At the very least, the treatment will include not doing that which caused the bone to fracture in the first place until it is healed. Not following this prescription just about guarantees permanent damage. If not treated promptly and with the necessary interventions later treatments may never be able to restore full use, or only do so after extensive reconstruction and therapy. This is an important corollary to keep in mind.
Equally important is the difference between a treatment and a cure. With prompt attention and care, it is possible to effect a functional cure, even of a bone break so severe, surgery is required. The cure is not the surgery, it is what happens naturally. Properly cared for and nutured, the body, not being subjected to further insult to the injured part, can heal.
Of course, when you break a leg, blow out your knee or tear a rotator cuff, you are also given a pill. Usually, many pills to address different parts of the injury. Pain pills, anti-inflammatories, even sleeping aids to ensure your body gets the rest it needs. These pills, like the surgery are not the cure. The cure is what our bodies do after medical intervention. That happens organically.
When discussing PTS as a medical condition, we need to address the symptoms. Take a look at this list-
Loss of Reality
This is actually not a list of PTS symptoms, they are just a few of the most commonly reported side effects of the drugs used to treat the symptoms of PTS.
On the one hand, it is critical to understand that Post-Traunmatic Stress is not a mental illness but we cannot treat the disease as we do most illnesses with a pill. We must see this disease as a biological, physiological problem but treat it with mental health modalities. Otherwise, all we are doing is making the symptoms worse, turning our vets into zombies and further damaging their already compromised nervous systems.
Each drug a vet receives for a symptom acts by either suppressing neural reactions or adding synthetic hormones that act on the nervous system. Prescribing something that places further stress on an already damaged central nervous system is like trying to fix a broken leg by walking on it.
All of this is the long way of saying while PTS is not a mental illness, the best course of treatment is mental health counseling.