Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a major risk factor for veteran suicide. Thus at No Fallen Heroes, where we have dedicated ourselves to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide, we are concerned with PTSD and its treatment. New treatments such as the use of psychedelic medicines show promise in effectively treating PTSD and therefore in the reduction of the rate of suicide among veterans. Knowing how PTSD and suicide are related is important in order to deal with this terrible problem more effectively.
What Is PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who undergo psychological trauma. This trauma may be from experiencing an event such as military combat, witnessing the death or injury of others, living in persistently dangerous conditions, being exposed to acts of terror, and similar situations. The condition is as old as war but only got a specific name in World War I when it was called shell shock and then in World War II when it was named combat fatigue. It was after the Vietnam Era that the name post-traumatic stress disorder was given this condition.
Past Trauma and Subsequent Thinking of Suicide
Mental health conditions that are related to suicidal thinking include anxiety and depression. These are common manifestations of past, unresolved trauma. Severe trauma by itself can predispose to suicidal ideation or cause suicidal thinking via the person continually rethinking and reliving their past trauma. When a person gets caught in a feedback loop of reliving old events it becomes ingrained in their life and tends to crowd out other, normal thinking processes and coping mechanisms.
In the case of military veterans who suffer from PTSD a major factor is guilt. Many veterans who were in combat lost buddies, witnessed the death of civilian non-combatants, or nearly died themselves. The veteran has always carried a sense of responsibility their whole life and this sense of responsibility kicks in that makes them feel responsible and guilty for events that were often beyond their control. This sense of guilt not only keeps old memories alive but often reshapes them into more painful and psychologically dangerous forms.
Conditions That Go With PTSD
PTSD rarely stands alone as a condition among military veterans. A vet may have had issues with depression, anxiety, or even past trauma prior to entering the military. However, they were able to cope successfully before additional trauma during their time in service worsened their condition. It would appear that additional issues do not simply add to the mix but are a multiplying factor in not only making PTSD worse but making it much harder to cope. Because veterans are typically self-reliant individuals, they tend to handle their problems on their own, do not ask for help, do not share their feelings, and in the worst cases tend to isolate when what they need is human companionship.
The Dual Curse of PTSD as It Relates to Suicide
When a veteran continually feels guilty about events during their service, they will commonly not share their thoughts or feelings. The only company they have in their struggle to deal with old memories dredged up by their PTSD are their own, often distorted, recollections and thoughts. At exactly the time when having someone to talk to would help sort out old, unresolved issues the veteran is driven farther inward where his or her only company is guilt or remorse, abiding fear, or all of them together. Suicidal ideation takes hold and the veteran sees ending their life as the only way out of their internal suffering or a just end due to what they experience as continually, unrelenting guilt and responsibility.
People can get caught in a psychological rut very commonly in life but events around them, friends and family, their work, or their religious faith often help to sustain them and help them emerge from a feedback loop that messes with their head. The problem with severe PTSD is that the continual reliving of past trauma in PTSD effectively rewires the brain so that any attempt to revisit old trauma becomes painful or frightening. This is why we are so excited here at No Fallen Heroes about the use of psychedelic medicines in treating PTSD as well as depression. These medicines help open up the brain’s access to past events without the usual onslaught of fear, depression, and guilt so that, with the help of a coach, the veteran can work through old trauma and finally put the past back in the past where it belongs and get on with their life in the present.