It affects 7.7 million Americans, and it knows no boundaries.
It can affect men, women, and children. There is no instant cure and treatments are varied. So is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) becoming a national crisis?
One thing medical experts agree on is treatments will never take away the traumatic events that cause PTSD.
So is enough being done to prevent our veterans returning to a life after the war that is PTSD-free? The symptoms of PTSD are numerous, reliving the experience, recurring nightmares, avoidance, staying away from people or individual events. A general negative thought process and a lack of interest in life. Hyperarousal is also another symptom many people experience, that feeling of always being on edge, insomnia and not being able to concentrate.
John Preston has fought several wars and the demons that followed him from the war field as he suffered from PTSD for over a decade. An Iraq veteran and singer Preston dedicates his time to saving the lives of others and educating both veterans and civilians about PTSD.
"I returned from combat in 2004 and immediately began abusing alcohol. There is no timeline on when things began to manifest because for many of the first couple years I consistently drank to black out and attempted to mask any problems. I had signed a record deal back then and had every chance to be a star, and my self-medication was also a path of self-destruction for my music career at that time," says Preston.
Not being prepared before or after serving his country Preston didnít know that he had PTSD.
Preston adds, "It took me several years to even realize that I was dealing with a problem. I was not educated on PTSD and wasnít aware I had problems I needed to face. I masked symptoms with alcohol attempting to drink away anxiety but instead creating aggression and destructive behavior. I avoided and denied my issues for several years. I didnít recognize this as PTS. It wasnít until I set out on my new journey with music in 2014 that I began to study PTS and it's symptoms. It was then that I realized that I had been living with it for many years."
Many medical experts say mental health disorders are the hardest to treat and cure; it depends on your definition of healing. For every person that has PTSD, the treatment is different, but it is possible to overcome.
Preston says, "There are lots of options available, but sometimes it is considered a stigma asking for help, especially for those who are trained for war. War dogs donít ask for help! I didn't know where to look for help, so I turned to alcohol and in mass abundance. I was a functioning alcoholic and a reckless one at that. I could not pick up a drink without it leading to a blackout. My health, relationships, and my self-production as a human being were all at risk. I feared waking up in the morning to be told what I had done the night prior. The scary part was I was conscious but hours of the evening were a mystery to me. Embarrassment became a daily feeling as I would backtrack emotional breakdowns and violent outburst."
Help Heal Veterans (Heal Vets) is using non-traditional but highly effective ways to help veterans with therapeutic craft kits.
"Our nervous system is only capable of dealing with a certain amount of information at any one time. Thatís why you canít truly listen and understand two people who are talking at the same time. When someone starts working with one of our kits and starts creating Ė his or her existence becomes temporarily suspended. There is not enough attention to monitoring how the body is feeling, so there are moments, minutes even hours of feeling healthy with no stress," says Joe McCain CEO of Help Heal Veterans.
Clinical neuropsychologist Catherine Carey Levisay says, ĎThere is promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time. Creating through art, music, cooking or crafting is beneficial to us in a number of meaningful ways."
In a 2007 paper called "The Neurological basis of occupation" written by Schindler and co-author Sharon Gutman, patients learning to draw, paint or use their hands to make things regulated high emotions internally such as anger or prevent irrational thoughts. These activities encourage elicit flow, and that flow could potentially help patients to dampen internal chaos.
"These craft kits are a great way for veterans to live in the present and not the past. If there were enough help we the veteran community we wouldn't have 22 suicides a day among veterans. I refuse to point fingers and only focus on the positive impact we can all make as individuals. I have lost my brother to suicide and have dealt with my problems for many years, but I want to be an example to those struggling that there is hope and we are the captain of our ship. The first step is to recognize that you may have a problem and then finding the remedy that fits you. We are all wired differently and must find what makes you feel good as an individual and surround yourself with that feeling. Believe it is possible and it will be," adds Preston.
Prestonís brother was also a veteran, his sudden death in 2016 hit Preston hard.
"Crafting improves self- efficacy. Psychologists believe a strong sense of self Ė efficacy is key to how we approach new challenges and overcome disappointments in life. Crafting is also unique in the fact that uses different areas of the brain. It can work your memory and attention span while involving visuospatial processing, creative side, and problem-solving abilities," says Levisay.
Starting in 2010 Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day followed in 2014 the Senate designated the entire month of June as PTSD Awareness Month.
Preston said, "We are in a macho world where the words 'suck it up' are second nature. There is a stigma of being broken, and it is the last thing any veteran wants to be considered. To those who get that let me interject my actions will be stronger than any words said. I will overcome any obstacle set in front of me, and I am never broken regardless of what one may say. I will bring our message to the world, and I will bring change to our community and perception will be annihilated when I stand at the top proof of our community's strength."
PTSD symptoms are slightly different for everyone, but so many people find comfort in using therapeutic craft kits and other nontraditional medical measures.
Preston says he will always be affected by his memories of war and thatís why he is so determined to help others live a normal content life.
"For me, it is overwhelming anxiety when not expected. I can no longer be around large crowds without having to fight those feelings back. Considering what I have chosen to do you can understand that this is a challenge I face on nearly a daily basis. It is not the symptoms we have but what we do when we have them that will define who we are. We are United States veterans, and we're born to kick ass at everything we do. We must be conscious of what we are feeling and open about it, and together we can overcome anything."