Emotional Health · Health

PTSD: Another Name for the Old Invisible Wound of War

4929687281_9050be47da_oImage from the U.S. Army via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few days ago, the nation paused to pay respect to those who have sacrificed for our country. As we took a day to remember and give thanks, it was important to pay tribute to all who have stepped forward to serve. On Memorial Day we acknowledge the wounds of war, the death and disability. But we are less aware of the hidden injuries—the military men and women who arrive back stateside without physical disability but whose lives are forever changed by their time in service. While some wear their scars on the surface, others’ scars are on their psyches.

On this past Memorial Day, Dr. Baxter Allen turned our attention to the devastation caused by traumatic brain injury. Today we focus on another invisible injury that causes prolonged suffering: post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Since the beginning of the military action shortly after 9/11, more than 1.8 million men and women have served as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in Iraq, and Operation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan. While advances in medicine and technology have made it possible for more of our soldiers to return safely home than in previous conflicts, the stress of modern warfare, compounded by longer periods of deployment and frequent redeployment, has left our warriors with invisible wounds to their mental health in the form of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance-use issues. Of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly one in five is plagued by depression or PTSD. These are wounds that affect soldiers’ mood and behavior, their relationships with loved ones, and their ability to hold a job and move forward with their lives.

Individuals have been traumatized by war for as long as humans have been taking up arms. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the modern manifestation of what we have long recognized as the effect that war can have on a soldier’s mental health. (It was called “war neurosis” during the French Revolution, “soldier’s heart” in the Civil War, and “shell shock” in World War I.)  PTSD, characterized by flashbacks and hypervigilance, affects about 14 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. While PTSD is the mental illness most often linked with combat, an equal number of service men and women suffer from increased rates of depression.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Megan Riddle June 12, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Dear Emily,

    You bring up a really good point. For so many years, the effects of war on the psychological health of soldiers and their families was unacknowledged and many are left with scars from these earlier experiences. Despite this, I am not aware of a group dedicated to the adult children of those who dealt with PTSD. You might consider reaching out to your local NAMI group (National Alliance of Mental Illness: NAMI.org), an organization that offers support both for individuals dealing with mental illness and their families. You may find you share experiences with others who have had a loved one affected by mental illness.


  • Emily Scholnick May 28, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Thank you for this article.
    I want to comment that I believe that PTSD finds its way into the children of the soldier and in my case it has informed my life and my siblings lives for 60 years.
    There were no social services recognizing the devastating effects in the 50’s and 60’s.
    I’m happy that today there is more help.

    I would like to know if there is another group of siblings out there living with the same struggles who are in their 60’s?