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When PTSD affects soldiers: ‘People go to war, they will come back different’

SEATTLE - Post traumatic stress disorder can affect people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. It is common for soldiers to come back from war and experience PTSD.

“They make you feel like a superhero, like nothing is going to break you and when you go through these experiences and you come out, you don’t feel like a superhero. Everyone says, ‘Oh thank you for your service, thank you for doing what you do,’ so you have to keep that façade, and that’s not really what’s going on, on the inside,” said former army ranger Matthew Griffin.

Griffin served in Afghanistan and Iraq on active duty for five years from 2001-2006. Griffin says PTSD is very common among soldiers but the stigma makes it tough to open up.

“It is completely natural to feel those things, but a lot of people they’re not told that when they’re in service and they’re actually made fun of and told you’re weak or ostracized. I think what you should know is that when people go to war they will come back different. They have things that happen that they weren’t expecting to see in life and they didn’t sign up for and they didn’t expect that and they’ve internalized that,” said Griffin.

He says the name PTSD already implies someone has something wrong with them by calling it a “disorder.” Griffin says the best approach is to show concern positively without pressure.

“We call it a disorder and automatically you’re stating someone has something faulty or something wrong with them. They have something that happened to them and it’s their bodies natural response. Just honestly talk to them, don’t pressure them or and don’t accuse them of having PTSD,” he said.

Mental health counselor Jamie Friddle with UW Medicine Valley Medical Center’s Psychiatry and Counseling Clinic says allow the person who may be dealing with PTSD to feel safe to open up and know it will likely take several attempts.

“Just saying, ‘I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about what happened, what was your tour like? If you ever want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen,” said Friddle. He adds people with PTSD may hesitate to get treatment because it means addressing the trauma that has been overwhelming them.

“I think it’s important for people to understand PTSD is a way of coping,” said Friddle.

The disorder affects each person differently. Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.

Griffin says he’s noticed among other soldiers that getting outdoors helps a lot and that connecting in support groups makes people dealing with PTSD feel less alone. He says it is important for people to understand there is help.

“When you go through traumatic event like war or warfare or death, there’s going to have troubles or issues that come on the end of it, so it’s not a disorder, it’s an order and I think personally we should change the stigma around it,” said Griffin.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) cites PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 8 million Americans. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. And women have higher rates than men.

The National Alliance on Mental Health has resources for people affected by PTSD and how friends and family can support.

The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs has information on PTSD and resources for veterans.