BY LUKE HARRIS STAFF WRITER
War scars people. Ever since the American Civil War, the “Soldier’s Heart” has been an issue that instigated studies on the long-term effects of trauma.
We’ve seen discussions of trauma in veterans more in recent years. And for good reasons — some studies show PTSD rates can be as high as 30 percent for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hollywood has certainly taken the opportunity to crank out trauma porn in movies like “American Sniper,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Rambo” and many more. It happens so often that when the letters “PTSD” are uttered, your mind can’t help but jump to veterans. But trauma extends much further than the military.
Trauma happens in many people, for many reasons, and acknowledging its potential in all of us will allow for more compassion and less severe consequences.
For starters, trauma has a much broader definition than many people are aware. According to the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, trauma is a “psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing.” That “event” can be almost anything: car crash, death of a relative, childhood bullying, house fire, and, yes, war.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says that roughly 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Veterans acknowledge that this problem extends beyond them. More importantly, they acknowledge the danger that trauma brings to us.
Everyone has an event that follows them like a shadow. But trauma does more. It’s like being chained to a 1,000-pound ankle weight. Carrying that around has drastic implications for your future health. It can reshape your brain functioning, allowing for overly reactive anger and impulsivity along with increased fear.
Some studies have even shown that childhood trauma can shorten your life by 20 years. It’s a total-body issue. People may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking and smoking, to calm themselves. But the momentary relief doesn’t unshackle them from the weight of trauma.
Thankfully, there are other ways we help battle trauma. Getting involved with other survivors, asking for support and taking time for yourself are more immediate actions trauma survivors can take. Psychotherapy and counseling can go a long way. Specifically, trauma therapy has been helpful for those in need.
The problem is making sure that everyone can get the care they need. The biggest barrier between trauma survivors and their care is getting them to admit they need help.
The dangers of trauma are evident, but the dangers of untreated trauma prove to be even worse. Studies on untreated veterans show that their relationships are more likely to fall apart, and their medical issues are more likely to worsen, leaving them in a depression that cascades over time.
If this is a struggle for the veteran population, then it’s a struggle for our society as a whole — a struggle that we can end.
It all starts with the simple act of changing the narratives of trauma. Trauma affects everyone, not just veterans. When veterans see their trauma as being relatable to the wider civilian population, it will reassure them that they are worthy of equal help. When civilians see their trauma as being worthy of treatment alongside veterans, it will encourage trauma survivors to speak up.
It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength. This is something most know, but never act upon. Talking about your feelings is scary, so framing it as weakness often gives people confidence that their silence is beneficial — but really their silence is detrimental to their health. Making this narrative change will go a long way.
People can never get better in the absence of other people. We’re social beings, reliant upon one another for our well-being. Trauma may scar people, but make no mistake, people heal each other’s trauma.