November 11, 2022

Written language has documented the impact of war. After the Civil War, men returning home were labeled “different” with “Soldier’s Heart”, due to the changes in heart rate. In World War 1, the term shifted to “Shell Shock,” due to the perceived nerve damage from combat. By 1943, “Battle Fatigue” was the initial diagnosis of psychiatric cases. Over 700,000 Vietnam veterans returned home needing psychological help, which resulted in the acknowledgement of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder, which occurs after experiencing an event that involves a threat of injury, real injury, or witnessing death/destruction. Those who have experienced trauma, have their natural fight vs. flight response damaged, often feeling stressed even in “safe” situations. A person may relive the event, avoid certain situations, experience negative changes in behaviors, and become hyper aroused. Not all traumatic experiences result in PTSD; diagnosis occurs when all four symptoms last at least a month. PTSD is a response to chemical changes in the brain and is debilitating, especially without treatment.

The military suicide rate is 4x higher than deaths occurring during operations. It is 2x higher than civilian suicides. Unfortunately, traditional talk therapy is not meeting the needs of America’s veterans. 1.7 million service members and veterans have at least one mental health issue, with most not seeking professional help. The reasons vary from fear of the unknown to unanswered questions. What services are available? Are services realistic for the military community? How will treatment/documentation impact careers? What will people think?

The National Center for PTSD has made great strides in understanding trauma. The brain and body are both impacted; BOTH need to be engaged during treatment. A “whole body” approach to mental health treatment is being adapted within the Veterans Administration. In 2017, the VA mandated the inclusion of acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, and other complementary and integrated health practices. This has set forth a paradigm shift that places vigorous support of alternative practices. Instead of copious prescriptions, the intention is focused on long term healing, which positively impacts America’s veterans and their families.

Examples of modalities incorporating mind, body, and energetic balance are:

  • Acupuncture which improves flow of energy.
  • Mental Health with Horses removes the stigma associated with traditional talk therapy and offers the opportunity for clients to “get out of their head” and engage their entire body!
  • Reiki is a gentle hands-on energy healing that reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, which improves mood, sleep, and relaxation. When the body is relaxed, it can heal itself from injury, stress, and trauma.
  • Tai Chi, or “meditation in motion” strengthens the mind-body practice of slow intentional movement and deep breathing.

It is our obligation to “Stomp the Stigma around Mental Health” by creating opportunities for the military to rise above the shackles of trauma. The invisible wounds are not only felt by the inflicted but permeates to family and caregivers. We need to show support for understanding, healing and allow for a more grounded, stable approach to treatment. The military are a resilient, strong willed, focused group invested in “action”. Alternatives allow for a more active, “out of the box” mission within nonjudgmental parameters to healing the invisible wounds.