PTSD in Veterans: Why It’s Important to Get Treatment ASAP

Treating PTSD early can literally be life-saving.

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Mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often subtle in the beginning. As time passes, your life bends more and more to the disorder, until it’s hard to do basic things like succeed at work, care for your family, and nurture your friendships. This is why treating PTSD early is so important, including for veterans.

“If someone thinks that they may have some symptoms of PTSD or really any difficulty readjusting to the civilian world, I really encourage them to speak to a mental health provider who can then connect them to the type of care that they would most benefit from,” says Amanda M. Spray, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone Health.

Risks of Delaying Treatment

You might feel like your symptoms “aren’t bad enough” to seek treatment, but treating PTSD early can prevent the disorder from progressing. In the beginning, you may feel like you can tolerate the symptoms without help. However, as symptoms of PTSD worsen, they may begin to control your life.

For example, many veterans with PTSD control their symptoms by avoiding their triggers. At first, this may feel like an easy solution to prevent flashbacks or other unwanted symptoms. However, this is not a long-term solution, and it can result in your world becoming “smaller and smaller,” says Dr. Spray, as you avoid places, people, and things.

As PTSD worsens, it may also shake your support system. “Relationships often struggle considerably as a result of struggling with PTSD,” says Dr. Spray. You may withdraw from your loved ones or have trouble fulfilling your role as a parent, spouse, or friend.

Why Veterans Delay Treatment

It’s not unusual for veterans—or anyone, really—to have reasons why they think they shouldn’t go to treatment.

“I can’t afford it.”

There are many mental health services available to veterans for free. Access your local Veterans Affairs location to find what PTSD treatment options are available for you.

“It doesn’t work with my schedule.”

To accommodate different schedules, you can find mental health support for PTSD at different times of day—even in the evening.

“I don’t want to talk about my trauma.”

“Talking about one's trauma can be terrifying, and I think many individuals think, 'I don't want to go there. I don't want to open up that box of memories,’” says Dr. Spray. “Then they avoid coming into treatment, when actually, many of our therapies don't require one to directly speak about the trauma.”

“I can fix this by myself.”

“We often hear the myth that individuals with PTSD should be able to [get over it], especially in the military, using willpower and strength alone,” says Dr. Spray. “Adequate treatment for PTSD requires medical intervention [and] psychotherapy intervention.”

“My PTSD isn’t that bad.”

There’s no such thing as treating PTSD too early. As mentioned before, the more you delay treatment, the worse symptoms can become. Treating PTSD early is easier than treating it once symptoms become severe and engrained.

Additionally, coping with your symptoms on your own often leads to habits that are “counterproductive and harmful,” says Dr. Spray. For example, untreated PTSD may increase the risk of substance use disorder and suicide.

Ready to get help? Find out how PTSD is treated here, and learn more about medications used to treat PTSD here.