January 7, 2016

Cannabis and the Veterans Suicide Tsunami

By 2014, waves of soldiers surged in the tides of our modern wars, with 2.7 million veterans lost in the detritus of conflict, as compared to Vietnam's 2.6 million. Both populations amplifying the undercurrents of the veteran suicide tsunami, inundating our communities. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the third highest psychiatric diagnosis for returning veterans, erodes buoyancy and dulls surfing the edges of sanity. The veteran rates of PTSD are 9% when returning, with a sharp liquid curve up to 31% a year later.

Swimming in the undercurrents, therapists report higher rates where 50% seeking help, only half get minimum treatment, thus triggering a seaquake spraying untreated veterans across communities, prisons and institutions. Army vets wash up in 67% of PTSD cases, where 19% received a traumatic brain injury, and 7% have both. Preceded by the military suicide epidemic, add bias in reporting veterans accidental deaths, plus under-reported statistics and treatment, and no central data veterans ride the white-capped waves suffering in silence, through ineffective systems, pour in poor record keeping from institutions, sets a consummate storm.

In the deep-sea of misery, the re-experiencing of vivid and graphic memories take form, in and out of reality. Often no memories and sometimes we cannot forget, a deluge of fears, repeating disturbing intrusions, running from bombs and bullets the green ghosts skip across the periscope screen. Studies point to previous trauma with increased risk and severity deepens when the soldier killed, failed to save a comrade, handled the dead, and saw atrocities. Tumbling further for veterans incarcerated, victims of military sexual trauma (MST), multiple deployments, childhood traumatization and or have substance abuse issues, all increasing suicidal behavior and risk taking. Rising tides in women veterans issues, higher rates of childhood abuse, MST, domestic violence and assault combined with combat increases the stress response and plunges with amputees and prisoners of war, where 37% are more likely to succumb to suicide. To cope, many veterans self medicate, often leading to substance abuse and an exacerbated mental health.

Where 39% abuse alcohol and 3% harder drugs, an increasing number of veterans are turning to cannabis to quell the agitating flashbacks, regurgitating anxiety attacks, gushing nightmares and flooding dissociation. Veterans using cannabis to quell the storm, report higher coping and increased resilience, significant anxiety reduction and a better quality of sleep, plus a full range of emotions to include joy and happiness. The hypothalamus and amygdala mediate stress through the endocannabinoid and limbic systems, tripping or skipping over the flight or fight survival mechanism. Cannabinoids function in fear extinction, role switching, and regulating the neuroendocrine system governing behavioral responses, resetting the mind's ocean; with calm, deep and cool convections. To quell the veteran suicide tsunami claiming 112,000 lives in the last 14 years, make cannabis legal and available to veterans.

January 2, 2016

Mental Wound

By Anonymous - Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a debilitating and life changing mental wound commonly associated with veterans experiencing trauma during wartime.  Studies by the VA revealed  PTSD is not limited to combat, it also includes military rape, childhood abuse and reckless behavior. (Christopher Bergland-The Neuroscience of PTSD) PTSD is considered a disorder to most professionals as well as the DOD (department of defense). PTSD is a natural response by the human brain to inoculate against further trauma. In this article I will compare and contrast studies completed by the VA on the efficacy of CAM (Complementary and Alternative medicine) and western medicine used to treat PTSD and why the “d” should be dropped.

When a soldier comes home they are given a mental examination, and if considered unfit for duty the military will tag you with a PTSD label, a polite way of saying you are no longer mission capable. If the soldier has been in a firefight the examination can happen in country. If a soldier admits that they are experiencing trauma from witnessing a friend step on a landmine, the examiner may deem the soldier unfit for duty and discharge them, and hold them from going home. Most soldiers will not admit it, and the possibility of losing careers plus the stigma, soldiers will alienate from most brothers in arms. To be deemed no longer mission capable creates animosity, hatred and mistrust. Ridiculed and removed from the brotherhood, the soldier almost always slips into depression, and can eventually lead to suicide, where a shocking 22 veterans commit suicide everyday (Department of Veteran Affairs). It sickens me to think that a soldier doing his job, will feel the need to commit suicide due to hazing from an egotistical and testosterone driven system. 

The VA uses Sertaline or Zoloft to treat PTS commonly. However, a double blind study done on wounded veterans showed that only 41% of veterans showed reduced symptoms, while 33% had reduced symptoms using the placebo (Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology). It can help by repressing the emotions, and aid the mind's ability to process trauma  and enables the confidence that it can be healed. VA  reports on efficacy of CAM can be life changing however, After 6 weeks of mantra repetition in 90 minute sessions can send PTS into a full remission. Progressive muscle relaxation, transcendental meditation, and acupuncture also help veterans according to the VA. The stigma placed on PTS makes our soldiers and veterans feel weak, and experiencing this impedes daily life activities, further deepening depression and increasing the risk of suicide. If we teach that PTS is a mental wound, and just as much a part of life as common as a fractured arm or a deep cut. If we revise the standards by dropping the “d” and call it PTS, then those recovering from trauma could have a more acceptable identity and more open to getting the proper care they so desperately need.

By renaming the mental wound to PTS, it would reduce the impacts on soldiers lives who have received a mental injury due to trauma.  The risks of losing your career could be reduced significantly as fewer soldiers would identify as insane, drastically reducing the personality changes and inner suffering.  If we reframe trauma as a natural process, a common reaction to traumatization, it could change many lives of our friends and families that might otherwise commit suicide.

To bring down the suicide rates in returning veterans and the internal suffering, we need to look at trauma differently. The stigma attached that “you are no longer good enough,” is archaic, the Spartans would exile those deemed unworthy. Soldiers are taught that PTS is a wound due to not being strong enough to deal with the trauma from combat. They are taught the condition is life threatening and PTS will cause them to appear weaker than peers. However, the fact that they are standing after combat is a testament to the true inner strength.  The “warriors only” mentality is detrimental, and out of place with advances today.  We  as a society, are evolving towards CAM and more worldly types of treatments. In one study elder vets from the Vietnam era accepted, and agreed that mindfulness and meditation techniques used for centuries in eastern medicine and in CAM, are beneficial to recovery from PTS (Mary Anne Liebert Inc).

PTS is a common part of life, and recovery is possible. When we correctly frame in the name and the way we perceive trauma, a direct challenge to western medicine’s assumption that PTSD as a life debilitating disorder. It is a natural response in the brain to prevent further damage, and when injured the individual is in need of treatment. A more useful way to prevent suicide and inner suffering is teaching that PTS is a natural reaction to overwhelming events. Then set an action plan rather than casting them aside, we need to understand that, the veteran is trained that he is no longer “good enough”, that way we can regulate, with verbiage some of the  inner issues they are having as well as our common treatment etiquette. They way we talk to a veteran with PTS should be in a way that dose not offend them, never ask a veteran if they have killed someone. Approach them with same regard in any sensitive topic, with respect to their circumstances and cultural sensitivities. Dropping the “d” would foster a new mission of unifying the mind, by imparting empathy in the naming of our condition for those who have lived through extraordinary situations affecting our communities. The next time you see a PTSD victim treat them normally, with respect, accept and love them, and drop the d.