Do you suspect your partner, a family member, or a friend back from the war zone has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but refuses to seek treatment? While any PTSD sufferer might respond in this way, male warriors wounded by PTSD seem especially prone to this reaction. That said, I know we shouldn't see the number of new cases of war veterans wounded by PTSD in the near future as we have in the recent past, but let's talk about this group of predominantly young men nonetheless. I suspect some of the things we've observed in warriors wounded by PTSD may apply to male police, male fire fighters and first-responders---all who could be susceptible to developing PTSD..
How do you get the warrior wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to see the error of his ways? First of all, you’re definitely right to be concerned and to want to push for diagnosis and treatment. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, when left to run its natural course, can lead the sufferer down a pathway to tragedy.
We know that many sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will go on to abuse either alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate troublesome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. So often, though, the chemical substance that initially seemed like a friend to the wounded warrior ultimately turns on the sufferer. Rather than merely having to deal with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms—as if these were not problematic enough anyway—the wounded warrior may become addicted to the substance of choice. This inevitably brings forth further problems yet—though the wounded warrior might remain oblivious to them while they likely concern you considerably. But then, as a partner, family member, or friend of this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer who also has Substance Use Disorder, you may become the victim of his emotional or verbal abuse, for instance. You may be sought out for financial aid. You may be asked to rescue him from dangerous situations. And all of these things could well happen while the relationship you once enjoyed together becomes little more than a memory.
You may also become more and more concerned about your wounded warrior contemplating suicide. And certainly, this is a reasonable fear on your part. So, what are you to do? How do you encourage your loved or friend to seek out much needed help?
Why Warriors Wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Won’t Seek Treatment
It might help to understand why a wounded warrior with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms might refuse to seek help in the first place. When you understand his objections, it becomes easier to address them head-on and overcome them. So, consider that a wounded warrior often doesn’t want to acknowledge Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms because he's fearful of appearing weak to his buddies. Yes, there's still the attitude among some that those who develop PTSD are weak or have a character flaw. I guess this is somewhat understandable when you realize there has long been an attitude in the military that when the going gets tough, the tough just suck it up and keep on going. However, while this tactic can work with some challenging situations, it may prove disastrous when one is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The person can not control how his brain responds to trauma. Yes, the military has been striving to make their folks more resilient to PTSD. Some of the research along these lines suggests that those who can be described as hearty as well as adaptable are less susceptible to PTSD. They will target more of their training toward building these traits in their recruits. So, perhaps things will be better for those who must go into the war zone in the future. But right now, we may see people come to suffer from PTSD who did not have such training opportunities. They may have succumbed in part to PTSD because of the nature of their genetics, their personalities, their previous exposure to trauma, and the extent and nature of the trauma they were exposed to in the war zone.
That all said, we don't want people to feel guilty about their PTSD. We just want them to seek treatment. Perhaps it might be necessary to explain to the person that just as a physical health problem such as cancer is unlikely to miraculously disappear, but will only grow worse without treatment, so it's apt to be with those PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, it's always best to seek treatment early on rather than later, even if this warrior wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has gone without treatment for awhile now, treatment should still be pursued. See, we now know from our experience with Vietnam War veterans that some have been helped by treatment even decades after the arrival of those PTSD symptoms. Then again, even if the symptoms can't be eliminated, the wounded warrior can still be taught skills or techniques for better managing them.
What is another reason the wounded warrior might fail to seek treatment? Well, he probably doesn’t want to let down his buddies. He realizes that while he is getting help, the unit will undoubtedly have the same amount of work to accomplish, but they'll have to do it with one less person because he's gone. Due to the sense of camaraderie the wounded warrior feels with his unit, he doesn’t want to do this to them. Furthermore, if his unit is still in a war zone, he will likely believe he's failing to perform his most important task or duty. And what is that? you might be thinking. Quite simply, he likely believes that his primary responsibility is to cover his buddies’ backs and keep them alive.
Of course, if a wounded warrior was expecting to have a life-long career in the military, he's probably fearful that a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will be the kiss of death for this dream. Yes indeed, many military members believe stepping into the mental health clinic for assistance with any type of behavioral health issue is a black mark that will never disappear. As a result, the wounded warrior might be shaking in his boots at the thought of having the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder placed in his medical record. He could fear that within days of the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the military will be pursuing a separation for medical reasons.
Changing the Wounded Warrior's Attitude about Seeking Help for PTSD
It's sad when warriors—whether wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or perhaps just facing challenging personal life issues--view mental health professionals as those who wreak careers. Yes, i'm quite familiar with it and, quite frankly, I worked to change this attitude when I was overseas. I wanted the young airmen especially to realize that sometimes getting help when one is struggling for one reason or another can actually preserve careers, relationships, and lives.
I interviewed three Generals who held the position of Base Commander during my five years in Aviano, Italy. They all stated that help-seeking behavior was a sign of strength versus weakness. They also strongly encouraged those having problems to seek help before anyone in the Command insisted that the warrior walk over to the mental health clinic. On other words, seeking help voluntarily wasn’t the career destroyer, but waiting until things deteriorated to the point that the Command felt compelled to take action typically was.
One Commanding General’s Story which May Prove Helpful
One General shared a story that illustrated this point. Since F-16s were flown at this base, it made sense he'd managed fighter pilots earlier in his career. As a result, he shared a story about one pilot who was the best at flying sorties—at least until he developed some personal problems. Fortunately, the General said, this pilot recognized that he was having difficulty, and so he sought help before he was forced to do so. The pilot was grounded during the time he was receiving treatment. However, after that, he was able to resume flying. The General pointed out that not only did this pilot’s s help-seeking behavior not negatively impact his career, but that by taking this step, he'd probably saved his career instead. The General went on to point out that the type of problems that temporarily impacted this pilot, when left untreated, usually created behavioral and other issues that caused the individual’s military career to disintegrate. But in this case, the General reported that after undergoing treatment, this pilot not only slipped back into the cockpit, but he resumed being the best at flying sorties.
Untreated PTSD can have Worse Consequences than Losing Military Career
You may need to help your wounded warrior believe he can be treated for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and then return to active duty. But then again, you may have to help him realize, just as this one General and other military leaders I interviewed professed, that sometimes it is necessary to step forward and seek help for mental health issues without regard to how this might impact one’s career. After all, left untreated, PTSD symptoms are apt to grow increasingly worse. Then the sufferer might engage in other behaviors of which the military disapproves—such as abusing drugs or becoming belligerent. At that point, the young man in uniform may be discharged with something on his record that will keep him from receiving medical and other benefits so desperately needed. If he'd been given a medical discharge for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder instead, however, he would have been eligible for such benefits.
Of course, you might also want to remind your wounded warrior that he could be sacrificing more than benefits by failing to seek treatment. What about quality of life? Many of us have seen where the veterans of the Vietnam War came home to experience severe difficulties reentering society. Many had relationship problems; they often married and got divorced soon afterwards. A number of them likely unintentionally harmed their children emotionally. Some war veterans couldn’t hold down jobs and ended up homeless.
Your warrior wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder could end up suffering such a dismal fate if he doesn’t pursue appropriate treatment. The Vietnam War veterans were the victims of both the war and the times. After all, we hadn't yet identified what so many of them were dealing with as PTSD. And so certainly, we didn’t have the medications and the psychotherapies we do now. But your wounded warrior can utilize all of these and hopefully, thereby become the victor over Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Offering to Lend Your Support if He'll Pursue PTSD Treatment
That all said, your wounded warrior might need your support and help to pursue the treatment he needs—and to remain committed to that treatment plan. Therefore, the first action you might want to take is to ask him in a non-judgmental tone of voice to talk about some of the reasons he has been avoiding treatment. And then, at least initially, just be prepared to listen to his comments. When you feel you fully understand where he's coming from, you might want to use some of what you've read here to try and overcome his objections--not immediately, but perhaps in a day or two. At that point, you might tell him that you’ve been thinking about what he had to say the other day, and you’d like to share some of your concerns about his desire not to pursue treatment—or why you believe it would be a better idea if he did so. Ask him if he's willing to hear you out, and reassure him that you’ll be there to help and lend support if he agrees this probably would be the best route to follow now after all.
If your wounded warrior remains reluctant to seek help despite what you’ve had to say, you might want to add a few additional comments to this dialogue. You may want to indicate that you don’t know how much longer you can stand by and watch him essentially engage in this act of self-destruction. You may also want to further state that if he doesn’t seek help and start working a treatment plan within a certain amount of time, then you may need to sever the relationship. However, once you know he is doing these things, you'll might well be be happy to reconnect once again.
Do you believe you're capable of having this type of conversation with your partner, family member, or friend wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Hopefully so. Remember, it may prove to be a life-saver. And indeed, that would be a very good thing, don’t you agree?