By Dr. Norman Fried —
The headlines of many U.S. newspapers this week report that five Americans are dead after a U.S. soldier opened fire at a U.S. base on Camp Liberty in Baghdad, where soldiers were receiving psychological treatment for the stresses of combat or from personal issues.
The shooting causes all of us to consider the power of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, particularly when it results from wartime stress. PTSD is noted by a persistent impairment in adaptive functioning that is triggered by a traumatic injury or incident. Laurence Miller, in his book, Shocks to the System: Psychotherapy of Traumatic Disability Syndromes, states that it is usually resistant to conventional medical treatment (credit bringman). PTSD can affect a soldier’s thoughts, mood, behaviors, work identity, sense of self, family relations, and social interactions.
As the conflict in Iraq marches through its sixth year, an increasing number of soldiers are suffering from?noted symptoms of PTSD. Sudden flashbacks to traumatizing events in combat, hyper-vigilance to the recurrence of danger, feelings of numbness, low self-esteem, rage, and lapses in concentration, (combined with difficult recoveries from physical injury), are likely cause to soldiers to feel more like strangers, rather that heroes, in their own home towns.
Indeed, after the war in Vietnam, many veterans struggled with similar side effects; some slept with pistols by their sides, while others suffered from nightmares and sleep disturbances; still others chose to live without electricity in the woods or in homeless shelters before attempting to return to society.
The cost of war is high and, as can be seen through the lives of many of our veterans, its currency is not measured in physical terms alone. Thus, as our young men and women continue to fight in Iraq, protecting the principles they believe in, it becomes ever more clear that we, on our own home soil, need to fight to protect the soldiers’ emotional well-being upon their uncertain, but hopeful, return.
Dr. Norman J. Fried, Ph.D., is director of psycho-social services for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Winthrop University on Long Island, New York. A clinical psychologist with graduate degrees from Emory University, he has also taught in the medical schools of New York University and St. John’s University, and has been a fellow in clinical and pediatric psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Fried is a Disaster Mental Health Specialist for The American Red Cross of Greater New York, and he has a private practice in grief and bereavement counseling on Long Island. He is married with three sons and lives in Roslyn, New York.
His website is www.normanfried.com.