When U.S. servicemen and women return from war, they often return home plagued by anxiety, depression and sometimes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced shocking, frightening or dangerous events. And while the number of affected veterans is high, emerging treatments are improving their chances for recovery.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD afflicts up to one in five from Iraq and Afghanistan in a given year, and as many as one in three veterans from earlier conflicts, like Vietnam, during their lifetimes. As of 2013, roughly 400,000 veterans affiliated with the VA carried this diagnosis. These figures suggest that psychological trauma is a staggering burden on active-duty troops, veterans and society.
“Returning home and resuming normal life can be a challenge for any service member. But for someone suffering from PTSD, it can be a crisis,” says Captain Keith Stuessi, M.D., a former Navy doctor and member of the board of Help Heal Veterans, the nation’s largest provider of free therapeutic arts-and-craft kits to U.S. veterans and active duty military personnel.
Because the science of PTSD was not well understood until recently, past treatments varied from heavy drugs to hospitalization to simply telling patients to forget about their experiences. But today, clinicians increasingly believe it’s important to employ emerging therapies along with psychotherapy and medication in a holistic treatment approach.
- Mindfulness. According to a new study, adding mindfulness to traditional therapy could be beneficial for soldiers with PTSD. Mindfulness means focusing attention on sensory perceptions and bodily sensations and includes meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and tai-chi. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
- Art therapy. When someone expresses feelings through art, the mind can begin to let go of trauma by transferring images and ideas to another object of the patient’s creation. Art therapy can help veterans communicate memories, relieve stress and reduce symptoms of trauma-related disorders.
- Craft therapy. Craft therapy has been proven to be an extremely effective PTSD treatment, and ample evidence suggests it has a positive overall impact on brain function. Foremost, craft therapy helps vets take their minds off events that may have led to their illness. Engaging in craft activities has been shown to address cognitive, neurological and sensory-motor needs by targeting performance skills. It has been shown to help promote the use of right- and left-brain functioning and help maintain cognitive functioning. More information about craft therapy can be found at HealVets.org.
“I’ve seen firsthand how instrumental these emerging therapies can be. Craft therapy, in particular, gives veterans a sense of pride, purpose and productivity, as well as opportunities to connect with family and friends,” says Joe McClain, Captain USN (Retired), CEO of Help Heal Veterans. “The sad reality is that many vets will come home with psychological wounds. Fortunately, the medical community is learning more about effective treatments every day.”