Ideas for Treating PTSD Without Medication
As a large percentage of U.S. veterans continue to struggle with the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), society and medicine continue to look for ways to help. PTSD is a mental health issue resulting from having experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and can result in severe anxiety, agitation, hypervigilance, insomnia, isolation, flashbacks, and other harmful side-effects.
PTSD can be debilitating and impact a veteran’s work, family, and social life. Sadly, PTSD is associated with the high suicide rate for U.S. veterans; a recent study by the VA estimates that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Even though veterans represent only 9% of the population, they make up 18% of Americans who die by suicide.
Society has begun to recognize that U.S. veterans urgently need help overcoming the residual effects of war. While some find help in medication, others are seeking ways to treat the disorder without pharmaceuticals.
Talking to someone who understands.
Simple but true, at times a veteran needs to simply know that there are people out there that have experienced – and made it through – the depths of PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD are isolation and withdrawal from normal activities and hobbies; a PTSD sufferer never knows when a flashback might happen or something may trigger the memories and physical reactions. Sometimes keeping up a happy appearance during a bout of depression can be exhausting and too much to handle.
The things that a veteran saw or perhaps was ordered to do – life-and-death decisions that can leave lingering guilt – cannot be conveyed to family members or friends who have no idea what war is like. The VA recently launched an entire site comprised of veterans sharing their stories of struggle and recovery from PTSD to show veterans they are not alone.
Today, a wide range of 24-hour veteran crisis hotlines are available for veterans who find themselves seriously struggling. A veteran can call toll free: 1-800-273-8255 and press “1” to reach someone immediately through the VA’s crisis line; their website also has confidential online chat and text options, as well as help for veterans with hearing impairment. Sometimes just talking through your emotions or mental state can release you from the moment, and knowing that you are not alone can give you the strength to hold on.
Experiencing a new outdoor hobby.
Someone experiencing specific symptoms of PTSD – repetitive thought, racing mind, sensitivity to certain trigger noises, anxiety from being in crowds – can really benefit from the peace and quiet of nature. But if you live in the city or have no familiarity with outdoor hobbies, it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, there is a wide range of organizations that exist solely to give veterans the chance to learn a new outdoor activity to help quiet and heal the mind.
For example, many veterans have benefitted from equine therapy programs that give veterans a chance to not only learn to ride horses but to do the other animal care that comes along with it. These organizations give veterans regular opportunities to enjoy the peace of the countryside on the back of the horse, as well as master the physical connection it takes to ride well. Other veterans have begun participating in fly fishing clubs; volunteers meet with veterans – some still patients at VA hospitals – to teach them the basics of the cast or how to make the best flys. Later, they organize fishing trips so the veterans can enjoy the serenity of the experience and also improve their skills.
One of the added benefit of these organizations is the community a veteran finds with the other veterans participating and with the organizers. Sharing the learning experience and helping replace negative memories with new, happy ones can help a veteran move towards healing.
Adopting a pet to give and receive companionship and affection.
The isolation and irritability of PTSD can build walls between a veteran and his or her family and friends. While the veteran does not truly want to be alone in life, sometimes the pressure of talking to others or dealing with an overloaded mind can be too exhausting. Pets, however, can offer the benefit of companionship without any judgments or expectations.
Pets, especially dogs, are naturally vigilant and can help remove that anxiety from a veteran who has difficulty sleeping through the night. Most pets enjoy giving and receiving affection, and are naturally soothing. Pets also are dependent on their owners, and can be a minimum reason for a veteran to hold on, knowing they must care for their pet in the days to come.
Whether a veteran needs a highly-trained dog that can detect and react to signs of serious PTSD and agitation, or simply a cuddly cat that is always there to hang out, even in the middle of the night, there are programs that can help, typically at little or no cost to veterans. Check out some of the many great programs that pair great pets with veterans, and consider whether a pet might be helpful for you or a veteran you know.
In addition to these approaches, there are additional ideas and groups that are geared at helping veterans heal from PTSD without the use of medication. From specific exercise and skill groups – like yoga, art, and aqua therapy – or the use of professional talk-based therapy, the choices are wide-ranging. Please visit the Veteranaid.org blog and search for “PTSD” to view more articles on these types of therapies.
Written by Megan Hammons