It took decades for PTSD to be recognised in soldiers, so it really isn’t surprising that it took a few decades for it to be realised that soldiers aren’t the only ones who can suffer from it.
There are many different traumatic situations that can result in PTSD. After soldiers had finally been recognised as suffering from PTSD, it gradually began to be realised that women who had been in severely abusive relationships were suffering the same set of symptoms that soldiers were.
Victims of extreme domestic violence develop the same hyper-vigilance that soldiers on the combat field do, and will have nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, triggers, dread that something awful is going to happen. They will actively avoid any place or activities that remind them of the abuse or that the abuser had forbidden while they were with him. They will be unable to stop their minds from spinning around in constant worry, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate. It is sadly more difficult for soldiers to get treatment and support than it is for women who are victims of domestic violence, and men who are victims of domestic violence can have a more difficult time getting help. It seems rather ironic that the first group to be acknowledged as suffering from a disorder that was thought of as “just for soldiers” is now left behind to a large degree in terms of treatment and support.
I have found soldiers to be very accepting of others who suffer from PTSD, even if theirs didn’t come from combat. In seems that to soldiers, the suffering, the wound, is what counts, not whether or not you were wearing a uniform when it happened. The camaraderie of soldiers is a unique bond of shared experience, but they also can share with others who experience PTSD in the same way that they do. I’ve never heard a soldier say that PTSD is “just for soldiers”. PTSD in victims of domestic violence is still very often misdiagnosed as depression due to the fact that PTSD is considered to be “just for soldiers” by many in the medical field. Doctors simply don’t recognise what they’re looking at in many cases if they aren’t looking at a soldier.
PTSD is a disability. It’s crippling in its intensity and scope, affecting every aspect of the person’s life, every breath she takes. Movement is restricted. Just as a soldier wouldn’t necessarily consider taking a day trip out to the battlefield where the bloodiest conflict took place, domestic violence victims will try to avoid any area or activities that remind them of the abuse. Flashbacks and triggers are a nightmare to live with. They can be terrifying and embarrassing, especially when the victim realises that no one is reacting to the situations in the same way she is, and that people think she’s lost the plot. Going out can be nearly impossible due to the fact that the brain is spinning in so many directions that she forgets where she is and ends up miles away from where she meant to go. She gets lost just walking down the street. It can be terrifying to look up and down a street that you know you’ve been down a million times, but at the same time not recognise it. She won’t be able to finish a thought, a sentence, a book or a film. Lack of sleep because her brain won’t stop spinning, as well as the fact that everything going on in her mind is worse at night, makes her life exhausting. Under such circumstances, social activities or employment are virtually impossible. Outbursts of anger that don’t make sense to the people around her, irritability, sudden sobbing or coldness that doesn’t make sense to the outsider make it very difficult for people to be around her, which makes her just as isolated as she was when she was with her abuser. In the case of soldiers, the war isn’t ever really over. This holds true for the victim of domestic violence, as well. Leaving the abuser doesn’t change anything. Her mind is stuck in that time period, and she is completely unaware of the passage of time. This of course means that for the soldier, life is stuck on the battlefield and never really moves forward. Each category of sufferer will experience the same symptoms, even though their nightmares and flashbacks will centre around different causes. The symptoms can be just as severe for each category of sufferer.
In addition to soldiers, people who can suffer from PTSD are victims of one-off terrorist events, victims of robberies, people who are involved in a car crash, pedestrians who have been hit by a car, or anyone who has suffered any kind of traumatic event. People who have been raped or who have been sexually abused as children can have PTSD, and in most of those cases, they won’t recognise that this is what they’re suffering from. PTSD for soldiers is readily recognised now, but many people who have been sexually abused as children do not realise that they’re suffering from PTSD themselves, and most will wait until they’re middle-aged before asking for help anyway due to the shame and secrecy around the entire subject.
The fact remains that even though PTSD isn’t just for soldiers, soldiers are the ones most likely to commit suicide because of it. For them, the severity of it can be overwhelming, the lack of help and support unendurable. They fight hard to get heard, to get a few pills thrown at them. The pills don’t work on their own, but a soldier can travel long distances trying to find support only to be put on waiting lists a mile long. Some turn to online groups in desperation for some kind of support, and though many groups are good, there is that risk of anonymity that can allow trolling by fakes who got in with an agenda in mind. The soldiers who returned home from the Vietnam War not only had their as yet unrecognised PTSD to contend with, they also had to endure abuse from people who were against the war and needed to punish the soldier for having gone. Some of the abuses that returning soldiers endured are unbelievably horrible, and the introduction of the internet didn’t help. It can be difficult to find someone to talk to who can handle whatever they have to say, and they can feel that no one who hasn’t been a soldier could really understand. This can be very isolating if they don’t have a support group readily available. Most of them do reach out to each other in a buddy system, but when the buddies are all suffering as well, it can be a downward spiral that seems to have no end. Soldiers who come home from the battlefield don’t always survive the war. The first group to be recognised as having PTSD has been left behind, and in many ways, has been failed.