Cutting Edge Psychology

What causes PTSD in combat veterans?

Posted on July 9, 2014 at 8:05 AM

This may seem like a silly question, as the obvious contender of combat experience would seem like the logical answer- there is nothing pleasant about trying to kill other humans, or having them try and kill you. However, despite the most obvious possibility, researchers of Vietnam vets founds that the biggest predictor of post combat PTSD was trauma incurred during childhood and adolescence. Recent research with Danish vets of the war in Afganistan has again confirmed this finding. Soldiers who experienced family violence during their childhoods, parents stalking or threatening their former partner, and violent punishment which resulted in physical damage, were more likely to suffer from PTSD following their war experience, regardless of the nature of their combat experiences. Soldiers who did not experience childhood trauma were unlikely to suffer from PTSD, regardless of their war experience. And soldiers carrying childhood trauma were more likely to fare well while in the theatre of combat because of the high level of support from their fellows; and to subsequently suffer more when returning home as this higher level of support was no longer available.


This research (linked below) shows the importance of negative childhood experiences, and informs us as to the accumulative nature of trauma. The real answer is for us as a culture to take care of people, especially little people, more than we currently take care of things.


The current high level of suicide by veterans is likely to be resulting from a combination of factors such as PTSD, and pre-disposing childhood trauma, as well as the misguided attempts to treat such problems with a crude pharmacological approach. Many people suffer extreme adverse reactions from anti-depressant drugs, including increasing depression and suicidality, anxiety and panic; and sometimes psychosis. The study of pharmacogenetics can explain in scientific terms why one drug can appear to help one person and nearly kill another. Unfortunately, veterans are being treated primarily with psychiatric drugs, and secondarily (if at all) with psychotherapy. They deserve better.

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