For Veterans, Witnessing Suffering Can Mean Worse PTSD
Associate News Editor
June 23, 2019
“An example of witnessing might be that a suicide bomber triggers a bomb that hurts or kills children and civilians. Then our soldiers come in to clean up or secure the area after the bomb has gone off and experience the devastation,” said study author Andreas Espetvedt Nordstrand from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
A study of Norwegian veterans who served in Afghanistan finds that being exposed to the death and suffering of others tends to result in worse symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than being put in life-threatening situations.
The study, published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, is part of a comprehensive survey of how veterans are faring after the war in Afghanistan. Just over 7,000 Norwegian soldiers participated in the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, and 4,053 of them participated in this research.
Trauma is roughly divided into danger-based and non-danger-based stressors. Both types of stressors lead to an increase in PTSD, an anxiety disorder which can involve being hyper-alert, jumpy, sleeping poorly and reliving events after they’ve happened.
Danger-based trauma occurs when soldiers are exposed to trauma in classic military settings, such as being shot or ambushed. It is an active threat that is linked to anxiety.
Non-danger-based trauma is divided into two subgroups: Witnessing (seeing the suffering or death of others, without being in danger oneself) and moral challenges (seeing or performing an act that violates a person’s own moral beliefs).
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