Military life is commonly full of work and training. It is often rather dull and boring until it is not. Then all hell breaks loose in a combat situation. One of the keys to a successful life in the military is maintaining mental health in the face of trauma. This is especially important for preventing the slide into post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and the risk of suicide. The keys to dealing with repeated hardship and trauma and maintaining mental health in the face of trauma are training to develop necessary military skills and the development of resilience which is the collection of skills needed to endure hardship and trauma.
Handling Yourself When Everything Falls Apart
How does a person handle it when something goes wrong? In civilian life this can lead to loss of a job, marriage, or a life. In the military the risk of loss of life of yourself and your comrades is much greater than in the civilian world. The military trains the skilled needed for combat but the military service member is the one who in the end needs to develop and maintain the skill to bounce back, keep doing the job, not fall apart, and, in the case of PTSD, not eternally blame themself in regard to constantly revisit past trauma. Resilience is the ability to take inner strength and come back when there is a setback. Such setbacks can be as simple as criticism at work or as severe as the loss of friends or family.
Life and Trauma Without Resilience
Without resilience any person can find themself feeling victimized, feel overwhelmed, and use unhelpful methods to cope like drinking, taking drugs, isolating, eating too much, or even engaging in risky behavior. Resilience is not ignoring a problem or “toughing it out.” This response to trauma all-to-often leads to emotional problems, depression, or PTSD down the line. Resilience does not make a problem go away either. But resilience allows us to use or develop coping skills to help get through a rough patch.
Respond to Adversity by Adapting
It is normal when one experiences a traumatic event to experience pain, grief, or anger. In combat there is no time to “fall apart” but rather the person needs to keep functioning both psychologically and physically. Just like in combat situations when it is important to work with and depend on those fighting at your side responding to adversity by adapting is more successful when a person reaches out to others for support. Resilience helps protect you from depression and even the development of PTSD. PTSD gets worse with isolation and the lack of coping skills. Suicide becomes more common. The military teaches toughness but toughness in the absence of smart thinking and reaching out when you do not have the answer does not work in many situations. Resilience is not just being tough but also knowing when you need someone else to help you with the answers and help you through the rough patches.
Good Mental Health Is Not Just the Absence of Sadness and Pain
A risk that soldiers have experienced since the very first combat is starting to believe that combat, pain, and sadness are all there is. A French regiment in the trenches in France in World War I rebelled and was willing to be shelled by their own side rather than continue to endure continual shelling by the Germans. In the midst of severe trauma and especially the reliving of trauma with PTSD it can be difficult to see that life can be good and happy. A good way to increase your resilience is to do the things you need to do to have a “happy brain.” Build and maintain strong relationships with friends and loved ones. Get involved and stay involved in community organizations after leaving the military. Do meaningful things every day and set achievable goals that you constantly work toward.
Learn from Experience Instead of Suffering from It
The key to treating PTSD is to reestablish perspective. The past belongs in the past and not in the present. We can reflect on past events, even very traumatic ones, and take lessons into our current lives. PTSD continues with a veteran is unable to do that because they are reliving the past and taking no useful lessons from it. At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to eliminating veteran suicide by all means possible. That starts with helping veterans maintain resilience and extends to the use of psychedelic medicines that have shown so much promise in conjunction with psychotherapy.