The only comprehensive study of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Charles Hoge in 2004. This study suggested that those who served in the Iraq War had an “estimated risk” for PTSD of 18%, and those who served in the Afghanistan “mission” had an estimated risk of PTSD of 11%. Ten years later, those percentages officially have not changed, because, I believe, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study since Hoge’s.
My late father served in the Korean “Conflict,” and was hit with shrapnel in his left lower leg on his twentieth birthday in August 1951. His own insistence and the MASH unit’s vein graft bank prevented the surgeons from amputating his leg. Daddy spent two years recovering in VA hospitals. When he finally returned home to Queens, NY, he took advantage of the thirty-six months of education covered by the revised GI Bill of 1952. Unlike veterans of World War II, the veterans of the Korean War were not given the full forty-eight months of education benefits. According to his younger brother, my Uncle Jimmy, my father worked a full-time job, went to class, studied, and had a very active social life. What little sleep he grabbed was restless. He would scream from nightmares. My father had PTSD. I’m quite sure that his likelihood of developing PTSD greatly increased by his difficult childhood with an abusive father and extreme poverty during The Great Depression.
As his only genetically-related child, my own likelihood of developing PTSD was in place. The other factors which contributed to my own PTSD were:
The rape and attempted murder I survived in 1991, five weeks after
My father’s death
Having other close relatives who had mental illness
My age [I was twenty-eight in 1991], and
My gender, because trauma is common in the lives of women.
“Findings from a large national mental health study show that a little more than half of all women will experience at least one traumatic event in their life…The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. About one in three women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. Rates of sexual assault are higher for women than men.” (Women, Trauma and PTSD|National Center for PTSD)
My father managed his PTSD by being a workaholic and an alcoholic. At the time of my initial trauma, I already was working eighteen-hour days, and drinking heavily. Many people who suffer from trauma self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Yet, my father never sought counseling for his PTSD or his drinking. But I am a member of the Baby Boomer generation. We care about our health a great deal. “Unlike the previous generation Baby Boomers are more likely to seek behavior health care services.”
I began seeing a therapist in 1988 while grappling with being the adult child of an alcoholic. After the traumas of 1991, I needed to take a break. I told people I would rather experience my grief than analyze it. Then in June 1992 I saw a new therapist. While we discussed my father’s death, my grief, and my stressful work life at great length, I never told my therapist about my rape. By the end of 1993, my therapist told me that he believed I was suffering from clinical depression. Therapy alone would not heal me, so my therapist referred me to a psychiatrist so that I would be given medication to treat my depression. I trusted my therapist, and I agreed. I was tired from suffering in the darkness. If only I had known that by putting myself in the care of this particular psychiatrist I would be exposing myself to more menace, chaos, and danger than I ever could have imagined.
Maura Lynch is a former film and book publishing executive who lives in Manhattan. She is writing a crime novel, and she reviews books and posts her personal essays on her blog, “The Wiseacre.” She actively tweets as @Loudmouthkid62. She has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and is passionate about improving the mental health care system worldwide.