As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover- as is the case with mental illness.
“I once worked with a Vietnam Veteran who showed no signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for years after returning home. He functioned well for many years until he attended a Memorial Day commemoration ceremony where they shot-off a cannon; the sounds and concussion from the cannon triggered PTSD.”
As a clinician at Easter Seals Maine, Paul Lipman knows many veterans who often inwardly battle PTSD.
“Although PTSD is seen as a mental disorder,I tend to view it as an emotional wound resulting from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event- i.e., a horrific, frightening, often life-threatening event that often involves feelings of helplessness, loss of control and feeling overwhelmed,” says Lipman. “First responders, such as police, EMTs and firefighters can experience vicarious PTSD as well.”
This Independence Day, Lipman and the staff at Easter Seals Maine want to remind people to be aware that not all 4th of July celebrations are universally well received.
“Triggers for PTSD depend on what caused the trauma in the first place. For veterans it can be loud noises of any kind, situations where they don’t feel in control- eg, crowds of people, getting cut off by someone in traffic etc,” says Lipman, who adds that it isn’t just holidays or public gatherings that can serve as PTSD triggers. “Often veterans have trouble holding onto jobs because they do not want having a boss who ‘controls them and tells them what to do. Anything that reminds them of the trauma can be a trigger- so a smell, a sight, a feeling, a sound etc can be a trigger. For example if someone was in Iraq seeing an Arab in civilian life could trigger a PTSD response, seeing something by the side of a road that reminds them of a hidden IED, hearing Arabic being spoken, being in a climate or setting similar to Iraq- all these and more can be triggers.”
Fortunately there are many treatments for PTSD that are being offered to veterans throughout Maine, including at Easter Seals Maine as part of their comprehensive Military and Veterans services program. When veterans came home from Vietnam and wars prior to Vietnam there were few if any avenues for treatment. That, thankfully, is no longer the case. Some treatment modalities are: CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy), PE (Prolonged Exposure therapy), DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy), Mindfulness Training, EMDR (an eye movement therapy) and supportive individual and group therapies. Lipman says support groups can be particularly beneficial to veterans- letting them know they are not alone in what they are going through.
“The important thing for families and neighbors to know is that they need to be patient with a veteran with PTSD. Although outwardly he/she may look the same, inwardly they have been changed by their traumatic experiences. It takes time and therapy to heal,” says Lipman, adding that often family/friends will complain about how the vet has changed. “Don’t try to force him/her to talk about their experiences, but let them know that if they want to talk you are willing to listen. Don’t be afraid to ask a veteran what he/she needs in a given moment- sometimes they may be able to tell you. Healing can happen and veterans need to know that it is not a weakness, but a strength for someone to ask for and get help when they need it. Veterans do not need to suffer in silence and they need to know PTSD is real and not something made up as an excuse for their behavior.”
If a veteran is aware of a trigger, like fireworks at the fourth of July, they can choose to avoid the celebrations or prepare themselves mentally. However unexpected or impromptu neighborhood fireworks could lead to a nightmare in their own homes.
“Since loud noises and crowds can trigger PTSD symptoms in veterans, July 4th is not a comfortable holiday for many of them. If they need to be low key and celebrate quietly they are not being ‘party-poopers’, they are just trying to cope and stay safe during a holiday that can cause them to feel unsafe.”
If you or a loved one needs help, please contact Easter Seals Maine’s Military and Veterans Services at 207.828.0754. You are not alone.