PTSD among war veterans can re-emerge even after 5 years, a recent study conducted by Dutch experts has recently revealed.
The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, by a team of researchers led by Iris Eekhout, PhD student at the EMGO+ Institute of the VU University Medical Center from Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The purpose of the researchers was to understand the mechanisms involved in the emergence and possible recurrence of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so as to provide more effective treatment.
The condition, marked by severe anxiety, usually appears after going through traumatic circumstances, such as traffic accidents, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, kidnapping, sexual assault or military combat.
Its manifestations usually consist of vivid and disturbing recollections of the event, recurrent nightmares and flashbacks, irascibility, nervousness, trouble concentrating, excessive alertness and fearfulness, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Data pertaining to 1,007 Dutch veterans was reviewed, all the subjects having served their country in Afghanistan, sometime between March 2005 and September 2008.
The vast majority of the participants had never participated in warfare before, and were initially asked to complete questionnaires around a month in advance of their first military mission.
Afterwards, they were required to respond to the same survey approximately one month following their deployment. Follow-up assessments of this kind were also conducted after 6 months, a year, 2 years and 5 years.
It was determined that subjects experienced the most obvious signs of PTSD in the first half a year following their return from combat.
When they were assessed after one year had passed since their deployment, researchers noticed that symptoms associated with PTSD has subsided significantly, being comparable to levels initially reported before entering warfare.
What stunned researchers was that post-traumatic stress syndrome was much more prominent 5 years after the soldiers had returned from Afghanistan. Not only had the condition re-appeared, but its symptoms had become much more debilitating than ever before.
The highest risk of experiencing such an unsettling recurrence was encountered among those who had been under the age of 21 when they first joined combat. They exhibited obvious signs of PTSD one year following their arrival back home, as well as 5 years afterwards.
Also, study authors noticed that combatants who had been sent on the battlefield during their deployment were much more likely to develop PTSD, which persisted even 5 years after military service.
In contrast, those who had only remained at their military camps throughout the course of their stationing didn’t have such a high susceptibility of suffering from PTSD, such symptoms being greatly diminished in their case.
According to study authors, one possible explanation for PSTD resurfacing after such a long time is linked to the fact many veterans come to rely on the support of a military group, which allows them to surpass the distressing events they went through.
Also, in the early stages, coming to terms with the ordeal and appreciating the return to safety and comfort can act as a source of relief.
However, after more time has passed, bonding with former peers sometimes becomes less frequent and reassuring, and the brief respite ends, being replaced by a delayed stress reaction.
In some cases, PTSD, which affects around a fifth of all U.S. veterans, doesn’t even debut in the period immediately after the soldier’s return, since it takes a while to process the entire chain of events.
Based on these recent findings, Don Richardson, consultant psychiatrist for the National Center for Operational Stress Injuries of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), emphasizes that it’s essential to closely monitor PTSD manifestations across the years, so as to provide veterans with the medical assistance and support they require.
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