Mental Matters, Part 2

The mind is a complex and cavernous place, and its health fuels emotional stability and clarity. Unfortunately, mental health is sometimes overlooked, pushed into the shadows by its physical counterpart. Often, mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are stigmatized within the military, much to the detriment of soldiers and civilians alike. Here, Pacific Medical Centers' family medicine physician Zaal H. Paymaster, M.D., further discusses the complicated realm of mental health in the military, discussing warning signs, coping techniques, and perhaps most importantly: how to ask for help.

Do you have any suggested precautions to take before deployment that may help combat developing PTSD while overseas or in battle?

While the ramp up a unit, and individual servicemember undergoes prior to a deployment is extensive, nothing fully prepares the individual for the physical and mental rigors of deployment. Something that was always emphasized and does hold credence, is that prior to deploying, ensure all important matters on the home front, related to family and loved ones, are secured and addressed. The mental strain in a deployed environment is taxing and at times unrelenting, demanding 100 percent mental focus for hours on end. It is easy to understand that anything which distracts any amount of this critical focus could lead to disastrous and life-ending consequences. Life is still life, and it would be foolish to assume that someone can plan for all eventualities. However, ensuring that the basic needs and requirements of loved ones back home are met can decrease some of the stress related to combat.

What short-term and long-term methods of coping would you recommend for people experiencing PTSD or other mental illnesses?

The patient suffering from mental illness can take certain actions to reduce distress and become better informed about their disease.

  • Learn about trauma and PTSD: Learn about common reactions to trauma and about PTSD. Find out what is normal. Knowing the more common symptoms of PTSD helps the patient realize they are not alone, weak, or crazy. The realization that there are many individuals who suffer PTSD, can help the patient better cope with the symptoms.
  • Talk to others for support: When survivors talk about their problems with others, something helpful often results. The patient no longer feels isolated but experiences understanding and a sense of "being" that the disease robbed from them.
  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, swimming, stretching, yoga, prayer, spending time in nature.
  • Distract yourself with positive activities: Pleasant recreational or work activities help distract a person from his or her memories and reactions. For example, art has been a way for many trauma survivors to express their feelings in a positive, creative way. Pleasant activities can improve your mood, limit the harm caused by PTSD, and help rebuild your life.
  • Talk to your doctor or a counselor: If self-driven efforts at coping don't seem to work, many begin to lose motivation, become fearful or spiral into significant depression. If PTSD symptoms persist or worsen over time, it is important to reach out to your primary care physician or a counselor for support.
  • What advice can you give to individuals who may be quietly suffering from mental or behavioral health issues currently?

    The best advice that can be given to someone suffering from any mental health condition is that they are not alone. The symptoms of their disease, along with the perceived stigmata, will often lead to them withdrawing from their family, friends and society as a whole. They will feel helpless and hopeless, which further feeds into their drive for isolation. There is help available if they were to only reach out or voice their need for help. While mental healthcare is far from a perfect system, it has made significant advances over the last few decades and can offer more treatment options and therapies than ever before. To the individual suffering from mental health, I implore them to seek help.

    Zaal H. Paymaster, MD

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