Traumatic events and their lasting psychological effects have been noted and documented with different names throughout the centuries albeit not fully understood or regarded as an official mental disorder in the United States until 1981 by the American Psychiatric Association. Over thirty years later and there still exists a misunderstanding and overarching mystique surrounding the disorder in the minds of the general public. Those suffering through its degenerating symptoms often have two battles to fight: getting those around them to understand what is going on with them and learning how to live life with the disorder.
The Department of Defense has launched a number of initiatives focusing on troops mental health fitness the latest being the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program a $125 million program implemented in 2009 that aims to help soldiers, family members and Department of Defense civilians by giving them psychological fitness tools to handle high, sustained stress levels and build resilience. It’s experienced notable success as highlighted in a recent New York Times article and the American Psychological Association’s January 2011 issue.
While most research is dedicated to the actual disorder itself, a few studies and the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program have uncovered a number of the positive changes some experienced after a traumatic event:
- Deeper appreciation of others and the meaning that they bring upon one’s life
- A more profound insight on life developed by questioning previous assumptions about the world and confronting thoughts about life that others who do not experience traumatic events often avoid
- An ability to see the positive opportunities such events may present to them.
- Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist highlighted in the New York Times article about post-traumatic growth, provides the example of an earthquake survivor who may see the natural event as an opportunity to build a better building than the one that existed before
- Many grow while going through the traumatic event itself by changing and reframing their mindset to transcend the event thereby progressing into a better, much resilient person
- Optimism is linked to increased resilience and to the likelihood of psychological growth
The program isn’t without its share of critics who point to the Army bypassing controlled initial studies to measure the program’s results within a small group before implementing the program at such a large scale. Some other critics note previous studies suggesting that many troops are already very resilient with 85% having no lasting adverse reaction from combat and a small percentage experiencing PTSD causing them to question whether results are truly contributable to the program itself. Whichever side of the debate one lays, one factor remains consistent: those who serve have an incredible overall resilience and an innate ability to make the best of their situation; key factors in leading a successful life and career.
Have you gained a more optimistic viewpoint to life challenges because of your military career?