Veterans and PTSD: Be Mindful This Independence Day
Independence Day, July 4th, is one of the most popular major holidays celebrated in the United States, topped only by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Halloween. Commemorating the U.S. officially separating itself from British rule, the 4th of July is usually celebrated outdoors with barbeques, family gatherings, and millions of fireworks painting the sky across the country.
The tragedy of the celebration of freedom that is the 4th of July is that many of the people who fight to protect it may also suffer because of it. While Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder does not only affect military veterans as it was once believed, those who have served and experience PTSD may be triggered by the sudden, loud, and explosive nature of most fireworks. For them, Independence Day can cause severe anxiety, flashbacks, mood swings, depression, and other debilitating symptoms.
Independence Day as a Trigger
If you struggle with PTSD and Independence Day is a trigger for you, the mounting dread in the days leading up to July 4th can be horrible. With some people choosing to start the celebration days or weeks before it’s actually Independence Day, the sudden triggers can be overwhelming. Hypervigilance, paranoia, and flashbacks triggered by the explosions and flashing lights of fireworks can make this national holiday a living nightmare, and leave you desperate for relief.
Military veterans are 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than their non-military counterparts. Untreated or mismanaged Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a huge contributor to that troubling statistic, as the overwhelming mental turmoil and physical stress becomes too much to bear. An estimated 7 percent of veterans develop a substance use disorder after discharge from service, contributing to the 10 percent of the U.S. population living with addiction.
The most common form of addiction affecting military veterans is prescription drug abuse. This often begins due to the powerful opioid medications used during treatment of serious injury caused during active duty. Without the proper support and care, it’s easy to become dependent on these medications, especially if one is also struggling mentally and emotionally with the trauma of combat.
Alcohol abuse is also common among veterans who struggle with the transition back to civilian life. Drinking helps to reduce stress and anxiety, allowing one to relax and let go. Because alcohol is one of the most socially accepted illicit substances, problematic drinking habits can fly under the radar for months or years.
How Citizens Can Help Veterans with PTSD
As we prepare to celebrate America’s birthday, it’s important that we are mindful of those who may be less enthusiastic about the coming festivities. Whether you know a military veteran experiencing PTSD personally or you just want to be a courteous neighbor, these tips can help make this national holiday more enjoyable for everyone.
- Firework curfew: limiting the time frame for when you and your family set off fireworks is considerate for everyone, not just those with PTSD. Try to limit the noise to one hour and finish before 10 PM. This thoughtfulness helps your neighbors who may work early the next morning, parents of small children, and pet owners whose animals may be spooked by the display.
- Limit the bang: it’s possible to have fun with fireworks without rattling every window on the block. Sparklers are fun for drawing with light trails and roman candles produce the beautiful light display without the explosive sounds. There are also aerial options that will give you the classic firework experience without the extra noise.
- Go to a professional show: do some research and see if there’s a professional fireworks show happening near you. Not only does this help prevent accidental fires, it helps to reduce the smoke and sound pollution associated with Independence Day. Because PTSD flashbacks can also be triggered by the scents like gunpowder, reducing the pollution is both good for the environment and people with PTSD.
- Invite Your Loved One: if a family member or friend is experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from military service, check in on them. Offer to spend the day with them and include them in on your 4th of July plans. If fireworks are too much, offer to spend the night watching movies or otherwise helping to distract them. Stay away from drinking or using drugs to escape the problem.