Are you concerned because you suspect your partner, a family member, or a friend back from the war zone has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but refuses to seek treatment? While any Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer might respond in this way, male wounded warriors—wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that is—are prone to display this reaction. Since we are going to see more and more of them in the future, let’s talk specifically about this group of predominantly young men, shall we?
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 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?
Understanding Why Warriors Wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Won’t Seek Treatment for Symptoms
First, it might be helpful to remind yourself why this wounded warrior is objecting to seeking help for those Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms 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 is fearful of appearing weak to his buddies. After all, there has been an attitude in the military that when the going gets tough, the tough suck it up and keep on going.
Your wounded warrior might remain unaware that while this tactic can work with some challenging situations over which one has little or no control, it may prove disastrous when one is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Just as a physical health problem such as cancer is unlikely to miraculously disappear on its own, but will only grow worse without treatment, so it is apt to be with the wounded warrior’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Indeed, it is always best to seek treatment early on rather than later. That said, even if this warrior wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has gone without treatment for awhile now, treatment should nonetheless be pursued. We know from our experience with Vietnam War veterans that even treatment after a couple of decades can prove helpful with this mental disorder. Such treatment may well still diminish Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms—or, if that doesn’t happen, at least the wounded warrior learns how to better manage 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 will have to do it with one less person because he is gone—being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because of 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 is failing to perform his most important task or duty. 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 is probably fearful that a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will be the kiss of death for this dream. Many military members perceive merely stepping into the mental health clinic for assistance with any type of behavioral health issue as a black mark that will never disappear. Thus, can you better understand why 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? Your partner undoubtedly believes he’ll be notified within days of the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that the military is pursuing a separation for medical reasons.
Help the Wounded Warrior Change his Attitude about Seeking Help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
It is sad that warriors—wounded by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or perhaps even just facing challenging personal life issues--so often view mental health professionals as career wreakers versus people who could actually help those struggling to preserve their careers, relationships, and lives. I understand the pervasiveness of this attitude because I spent five years at an air base in Aviano, Italy trying to overcome this type of thinking. While progress has been made, we still have a way to go.
When I was trying to promote the message that help-seeking behavior was a sign of strength versus weakness, I enjoyed advantages that you don’t as a concerned partner, family member, or friend. But then, because of your emotional connection with the wounded warrior, you certainly possess others I did not have. Combining your emotional connection to the warrior with what I’m about to tell you, hopefully you’ll have success in your next conversation where you push on behalf of treatment for those Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.
I was able to go and interview three different Generals who all served as the Base Commander during part of my tenure in Aviano, Italy. I interviewed others as well—such as Group Commanders and Master Sergeants who all knew the ropes. They all stated quite clearly 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. Seeking help voluntarily wasn’t the career destroyer, they pointed out, but waiting until things deteriorated to the point that the Command felt compelled to take action typically was.
One Commanding General’s Story that, while not Specific to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, May Still Prove Helpful
Since they flew the F-16 at the base where I was employed those five years, it made sense that one of the commanding Generals I interviewed had managed fighter pilots earlier in his career. He told me a story about one pilot who was the best at flying sorties—at least until this fighter pilot developed some personal problems. Fortunately, the General said, this pilot recognized that he was having difficulty and sought help before he was forced to do so.
Needless to say, this pilot was grounded during the time he was receiving treatment. However, after that, he was also 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 the General emphasized that by taking this step, the pilot had probably saved his career instead. The General talked about how problems, such as those that temporarily impacted this pilot, when left untreated, typically resulted in a downward spiral that 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 slipped back into the cockpit and resumed being the best at flying sorties.
Remind the Wounded Warrior that Untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can have Worse Consequences than Losing a Military Career
Hold out hope to your wounded warrior that he might be treated for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and then be returned to active duty. However, also help him understand that, just as this one General and other leaders I interviewed professed, sometimes a wounded warrior must step forward and seek help for mental health issues without regard to how this might impact one’s military career. As just alluded to, mental disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder do not just suddenly disappear. Left untreated, the symptoms are apt to grow increasingly worse. Then the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 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 had been given a medical discharge for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder instead, however, this veteran would have been eligible for such benefits.
Of course, you must also remind your wounded warrior that he might 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. While the Vietnam War veterans were the victims of both the war and the times—the fact we didn’t have the medications for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the psychotherapies we do now—your wounded warrior can utilize these to become the victor over Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.
Your wounded warrior might need your support and help to pursue the help he needs—and then to remain committed to the treatment plan. So, 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. Initially, just be prepared to listen to his comments. When you feel you fully understand where he is coming from, you might want to use some of what you have read here to try and overcome his objections. However, it may be best not to do this immediately. Instead, wait a day or two. At that point, tell him 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 failure to pursue treatment—and why you believe he should seek out treatment for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms instead. Ask him if he is willing to hear you out, and reassure him you’ll be there to help and lend support if he agrees this is the best route to follow now.
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 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 will be happy to reconnect once again.
Do you believe you are capable of having this type of conversation with this warrior 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?