soldier

Dealing with the Lasting Impact of Violence and War At Home

November 10, 2014 | Nick Taylor

A war or experience with a terrorist attack has a lasting impact on the person who suffered through it, whether it be a civilian victim of violence or a soldier sent to fight overseas.  In this exclusive article for the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, journalist Emma Canterbury investigates how we are all dealing with the Lasting Impact of Violence and War At Home.

Veterans affairs agencies, as well as non-profit charitable groups recognize that follow-up care, including both medical, as well as counselling, is essential in order to restore or maintain good mental health and reintegrate effectively into civil society.

Following the involvement of both Britain and the United States in lengthy conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, American officials predict that the need of veterans of these conflicts will continue to challenge public and private veteran agencies until 2054. (1)

Organisations like Britain’s Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace help those who experienced violence first-hand work through the commonly felt sense of “self-guilt,” fear or shame, allowing eye witnesses of extreme violence to reflect on what happened openly, honestly, thus allowing them to work through the trauma.  The Foundation also works with families of those affected who they find can be at the front line of providing care and feeling the affects of such trauma.

Victims or eye witnesses of violence often need to recognise the need for comprehensive professional help and community, charitable organisations, as well as government agencies, need to be prepared to offer this.

The Lingering Psychological Impact

A range of studies have been produced on the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on young Britons and Americans. In the United States, veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have often developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fully 95% of respondents of one major survey noted that they had seen dead bodies in combat and that this remains an on-going stressor, while in Iraq, between 89% and 95% of soldiers had an experience being ambushed, and this too has left haunting memories.

An estimated 18% of all soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD. (2)

In the UK, recent research has shown a marked rise in cases of PTSD among British soldiers. According to statistics from 2014, diagnosed cases of PTSD in the UK has increased by 19% over the course of a single year and other mental health disorders among UK veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan grew by 12%. (3)

While some research has suggested that PTSD is more common among American soldiers than among Britons, according to King’s College London academics, alcohol abuse is markedly higher among UK veterans than those in the US, and this may also be a sign of mental health problems arising from the unprocessed traumas of war. (4)

When left un-diagnosed and untreated, PTSD can be absolutely debilitating for veterans, with the NHS noting that chronic insomnia, an inability to concentrate and mood swings, as well as growing isolation from one’s community and personal support networks are some of the most common symptoms and consequences.

PTSD and Drug Abuse

Drug abuse among veterans and soldiers coming home from traumatic experiences in a conflict zone is not uncommon. The British military invokes administrative discharge for soldiers caught engaging in any type of drug use, even if it only ever happened on one occasion. Yet this tough approach does not in any address the problem of drug use among those who have suffered trauma and are no longer in active duty.

Specialists have noted that drug use among veterans is often tied with depression and in less frequent cases, even with mania or psychotic episodes. Heroin use among those struggling with PTSD is especially challenging to treat, and often requires “round the clock care” for it to be effective. The question or concern, however, is how many veterans recognize the signs of addiction and PTSD, and actually seek help. Not seeking help, however, can have fatal consequences, with over 350 Britons dying each year from heroin alone and over 1,700 from all forms of drug abuse.

Now that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — two conflicts that defined a decade of Britain’s history — have wound down, society, the public sector, as well as charities have an obligation to reach out to those who put their lives at risk fighting overseas; many of whom now need our help, in order to reintegrate back home.

Sources:

(1) Bobbie O’Brien, Full Impact of War Will Take 40 Years , WUSF News.
(2) Mental Health Effects of Serving in Afghanistan and Iraq , Veteran Affairs.
(3) Ben Farmer, PTSD Rises by a Fifth in British Military , The Telegraph.
(4) Sarah Sloat, US Soldiers Are More Likely to Suffer from PTSD Than UK Soldiers , New Republic.