Combat, Trauma, and Stress Reactions
What is combat trauma?
Combat experiences are often traumatic. They can arouse feelings of intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror. Combat traumas include but are not limited to:
- Exposure to bullet, artillery, rocket, or mortar fire;
- Surviving a bombing, mine blast, IED, or motor vehicle accident;
- Handling human remains;
- Witnessing the death or injury of friends and other military personnel, civilians, or enemy combatants.
What are the common reactions to combat trauma?
Service members deployed in war zones often develop stress reactions. These reactions are usually temporary and do not create lasting difficulties at work or with friends and family.
1) Unwanted remembering or re-experiencing
Almost all war veterans have difficulty controlling distressing memories of war. They may experience these memories as unwanted images or thoughts, as flashbacks, or as dreams and nightmares.When reminded of the traumatic event, veterans may experience emotional distress and physical reactions such as shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, muscle tension, and stomach upset.
2) Physical activation or arousal
The level of energy, tension, and vigilance required for survival in war zones does not shut down overnight. Physical activation can continue long after deployment. You might feel it as:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Anger and rage
- Difficulty concentrating
- Remaining constantly on the lookout
- Being startled easily
- Sensitivity to bright light, loud noises, large crowds, and unfamiliar places
- Anxiety and panic
3) Emotional numbing
Traumatic combat experiences can cause overwhelming emotions. Sometimes your body and mind respond to these distressing emotions by shutting down -- becoming numb. Although this effectively protects you from experiencing strong negative emotions, it also prevents experiencing strong positive emotions.
4) Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts and feelings
Distressing memories of war and physical sensations of fear and activation can feel frightening and overwhelming. Veterans often respond by avoiding people, places, conversations, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and physical sensations that might remind them of the combat trauma. This can lead to increased isolation from society.
When do common stress reactions become PSTD?
Sometimes stress reactions remain intense or worsen over time. They may continue to cause distress and increasingly interfere with relationships, employment, and daily life. When this happens, it is a sign that you may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can affect military service members of any age, sex, mental and physical toughness, or military experience.
How can the Trauma and PTSD Program assist military service members who have experienced combat-related trauma?
Our team conducts state-of-the-art clinical research studies to improve new and existing treatments for military service members (active duty, National Guard, Reserves, and veterans) with PTSD.
We have three no-cost studies offering evidence-based treatment of PTSD.
Eligible participants from ANY division of the military who served in ANY conflict will receive FREE, CONFIDENTIAL treatment. There is no waiting list. Treatment for eligible participants is available right now. Two of our programs involve only psychotherapy (talking therapy). The third offers treatment with medications that have been shown to help PTSD.
How does military service and combat-related stress affect the families of military service members?
Military families face challenges before, during, and after deployment.
Before deployment, family members may experience fear and anger, as well as detachment and withdrawal in anticipating their loved one’s departure and physical absence.
During deployment, family members face a range of difficult feelings and experiences:
- Concern, worry, or panic
- Loneliness, sadness, depression
- Added family duties and responsibilities
- Learning new skills, making new friends
- Fear for their service member’s safety
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Financial difficulties
- Dealing with problems on their own
- Understanding what loved ones have been through
- Concern over being needed and loved
Following deployment, families face the challenge of reintegrating their loved one back into the family, which can be hard for all involved.
How can the Trauma and PTSD Program assist families of military service members?
Currently, the Trauma and PTSD Program is conducting a 12 week study of Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), a treatment shown to help depression, to treat depressed spouses of military service members returning from the Middle East. IPT focuses on life changes (like a veteran’s departure for combat or return from combat) and their relationship to mood changes.
Treatment takes place in 12 weekly 50-minute sessions. Evaluations take place before treatment, after 6 weeks, after 12 weeks, and after 26 weeks.
Learn more about available Depression Treatment Programs at Columbia/NYSPI
Eligible spouses of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn service members from ANY division of the military will receive FREE, CONFIDENTIAL treatment for depression. There is no waiting list. Treatment for eligible participants is available right now.
News from Columbia Trauma and PTSD Team:
Check out a lecture given by Dr. Yoram Eshet, PhD of the Open University in Israel. The talk was titled, "A shattered World: Brain Injury, Trauma and Memory" where Dr. Eshet discusses his own personal experiences with the topic.
Yoram Eshet Talk 10-23-12