Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are the troops just too young to go?

N.J. Veterans Helpline: Preventing suicide after war
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board/The Star-Led...
March 06, 2010, 5:01AM

Army Sgt. Coleman Bean died at a time when most people are just beginning to live. He was 25 in 2008 when he shot himself in the head in his South River apartment. He had served eight years fighting the war in Iraq.

Suicide is an ugly consequence for far too many veterans returning from the trauma of combat. Like Coleman, the tragedies of war follow them home. They come back suffering from deep depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Often they don’t know where to turn to for help.

More than 2,100 members of the armed forces have taken their own lives since 2001. And a study by the RAND corporation found that nearly one in five returning veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan were suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. That shows that long after combat ends, war can still take a toll on soldiers.

read more here

Preventing suicide after war

Seminole Community Behavioral Health held a two day training session on Mental Health First Aid. Great training and I've taken almost everything available. I try to take anything on mental health so that I can get a better idea of what is being done for civilians that may not be happening for the troops and our veterans or visa versa.

During the training the frontal lobe area of the brain was brought up and while we were discussing the fact it is not fully "functional" until the age of 25, I coupled this with the fact most of the troops sent into combat are under 25. Odd how that happens but when you think about it, while this may benefit the military having young bodies thinking they are invincible put their lives on the line, it is not such a good idea when they have not understood the ramifications of this when they are paying the price with their minds.

Older people can be affected/wounded by PTSD as well depending on what else went on in their lives before, during and after the trauma but when we see older veterans seeking help for what happened in Vietnam, we need to acknowledge one very important fact. The fact is, they did not suddenly get slammed by what happened 30 or 40 years ago. They have been walking wounded waiting to "get over it" as PTSD gained more and more control over their lives.

Now it seems that when it comes to PTSD, age has a lot more to do with the development of PTSD as much as the trauma itself.

Frontal Lobe

The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events. Therefore, it is involved in higher mental functions.
The frontal lobes also play an important part in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain's limbic system. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms.
Psychological tests that measure frontal lobe function include finger tapping, Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, and measures of verbal and figural fluency.[2]

Frontal Lobes
What are the Frontal Lobes?

"The frontal lobes are considered our emotional control center and home to our personality. There is no other part of the brain where lesions can cause such a wide variety of symptoms (Kolb & Wishaw, 1990). The frontal lobes are involved in:

· motor function,

· problem solving,

· spontaneity,

· memory,

· language,

· initiation,

· judgment,

· impulse control…

· social and sexual behavior.

The frontal lobes are extremely vulnerable to injury due to their location at the front of the cranium, proximity to the sphenoid wing and their large size. MRI studies have shown that the frontal area is the most common region of injury following mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (Levin et al., 1987).

Traumatic Brain Injury Resource Guide: Frontal Lobes

One of the most common characteristics of frontal lobe damage is difficulty in interpreting feedback from the environment. Perseverating on a response (Milner, 1964), risk taking, and non-compliance with rules (Miller, 1985), and impaired associated learning (using external cues to help guide behavior) (Drewe, 1975) are a few examples of this type of deficit.

The frontal lobes are also thought to play a part in our spatial orientation, including our body's orientation in space (Semmes et al., 1963).

One of the most common effects of frontal damage can be a dramatic change in social behavior. A person's personality can undergo significant changes after an injury to the frontal lobes, especially when both lobes are involved. There are some differences in the left versus right frontal lobes in this area. Left frontal damage usually manifests as pseudodepression and right frontal damage as pseudopsychopathic (Blumer and Benson, 1975).

Sexual behavior can also be effected by frontal lesions. Orbital frontal damage can introduce abnormal sexual behavior, while dorolateral lesions may reduce sexual interest (Walker and Blummer, 1975).

read more here

The more I talk to veterans and their families, the more the links between the PTSD veterans becomes clear. The age they were deployed, which is usually under 25. The fact that families say they used to be very compassionate, caring, loved to do things but ended up with a total personality change. They were drained by what they went through but somehow most of what they used to be remains frozen taking a subordinate position as PTSD gained more and more control.

Maybe instead of saying "wounded mind" we should be saying "hurt brain" since PTSD is caused by an outside force? After all, PTSD only comes after experiencing an event when their lives were in danger or they witnessed something horrifying. There have been cases of veterans in perceived safe jobs but ended up with PTSD because they worked collecting bodies or recovering vehicles after a bomb blew up the occupants. Maybe TBI hits harder the younger they are as well, but the more we understand about how humans develop, the better we can understand the damage done to them affecting the rest of their lives.

Are older survivors of trauma more able to recover from them because of how they developed and what their life experiences were like? Are they less able to recover if they were already exposed to traumatic events at a young age? Does peer impressions play into the recovery or lack of it?

Suppose you were under 20, serving in Iraq when an IED blew up some of your friends. Then think about how your other buddies seemed to get over it to the point where they were able to go back to their "normal" lives back on US soil. They appear to be able to recover while you are still grieving, can't get it out of your mind, can't stop thinking about it and dreaming about it and there is no way in hell you want them to think you are weaker than they are. What do you do? You do whatever you can to make sure they don't see any sign of "weakness" coming from you. You talk yourself into doing whatever it takes to appear as tough as you think your buddies are. What you don't seem to be able to understand is that you are not hiding anything from them. They see right through you but may not understand what they are seeing.

Now top all that off with the fact some of your buddies get fed up with the way you are acting and then push you away. You want to tell them what's going on but you know if you do, they will see you as weak, so you decide you'd rather have them think the worst of you than know you need help. This happens all the time. The good thing the military and the VA are doing right now is relying on the Buddy System so this doesn't happen as often.

For Vietnam veterans the same things happened and these are "tough" guys now because they developed that way. Their lives made them tough just as much as the way they were treated when they came home. They were hardened by all of it on the surface but beneath it all there was a "hurt brain" they tried to cover up. They knew something was wrong but for most, up until the last few years, they had no clue what it was.

Many of them still have the wrong idea of what PTSD is even if they acknowledge the term as a part of them. Too many of them still think this means they are "crazy" or a "nut case" and if they opened up about their emotions, they would no longer be "tough enough" to take it. Some still think that one day they will wake up and it will all be gone, waiting for the day when they finally do "get over it" comes and they will be cured.

They search for what they think will make them happy. They drink too much because for a time it makes them feel better. They fall in love over and over as the "love high" makes them feel better until they discover that all the symptoms of PTSD have ruined another relationship, so they search for another one where they will feel good about themselves again without ever addressing the fact they still have the pain inside of them. They want to live isolated from others physically because emotionally that is the way they have survived all these years.

They want to be able to trust "buddies" at the same time letting anyone get that close is the last thing they feel comfortable doing fearing being judged, ending up being pushed away.

They want what the rest of us want but can't figure out how to get there from here without help. For most, they don't know where to find the help. When they came home, there wasn't any help to find but now there is. The problem they face now is how they can get the message when too little is being talked about.

It would be a wonderful day in this country if PTSD had commercials. We know more about erectile problems than we do about problems with the organ that controls the entire life, the brain. We know more about problems with the menstrual cycle of women than we do about the cycle of life after trauma.

Looking at Vietnam veterans and the commonality they have with the newer generation of veterans, there can be no more clear evidence of the fact if we do not address PTSD in them while they are still young, they will end up facing life with a "hurt brain" for the rest of their lives. Had Vietnam veterans received the help they needed when they came home, mild PTSD would have stayed mild and most would have recovered enough to heal instead of PTSD being allowed to claim more of their lives. Do we really want this repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans?
Welcome to Veteran's Services!

Seminole Behavioral Healthcare is proud to announce that a wide variety of services are now available free of charge to the following:

Those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan
Family members of those who have served, including children
Family Readiness Coordinators
Military personnel, including chaplains and VA employees
The following services are made possible through a generous grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice and the Florida Braive Fund:

Individual counseling
Family counseling
Support groups
Information & referral consultation
Certification in Mental Health First Aid
Professional Events for service providers

To find out more about our exciting new services for veterans and their families, simply click the "help/contact" tab on the side of this screen, or call :

Laurie Reid, LMFT, CAP
Director of Veterans Services
(407) 831-2411 X1266

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