June was PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Awareness Month. The focus is to raise public awareness about issues related to PTSD and help to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD. The Senate designated June as the official month in 2014. While June is the official month to help raise awareness, the focus shouldn't stop there. As the Fourth of July approaches it is important to remember those who are dealing with PTSD and the triggers that can take place with the Fourth of July festivities.
“Many veterans struggle during 4th of July celebrations. Some veterans have difficulty with the sound of fireworks, though not all. Fireworks can often sound like gunfire, mortars and other explosive devices,” Dr. Deborah Larson-Stoa, staff psychologist at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, said.
Many combat veterans have encountered the sounds and have traumatic events associated with them, the sound of fireworks can serve as a trigger and bring back distressing memories and images. The intrusive images and memories can cause strong, negative emotions for veterans,” Dr Larson-Stoa said.
Not all veterans suffer from PTSD and not all will have negative effects from the events surrounding the 4th of July, it is important to be aware of those who may be around the neighborhood or community activities. Each person dealing with the impact of PTSD will cope in their own way, and those coping methods can range from isolation to angry outbursts, and depression.
There are healthy coping avenues that are utilized by veterans and those suffering from PTSD including a healthy sharing of their memories, spending time with family and friends and remaining active and engaged so their minds do not wonder and focus solely on traumatic memories.
“In general family and friends can support the veteran by offering their physical and/or emotional support. They may encourage the veteran to engage in activities by including them in their planned festivities,” she said. “Take the time to listen to their stories and hear how those traumatic events impacted the veteran. Family and friends can help honor those who have been lost.”
Dr. Larson-Stoa continued, “Remember, in spite of the efforts the veteran may decline support and want to be alone. Be respectful of their decision; understand their reactions and their refusal to attend fireworks or other activities. For those who are triggered by the sounds of fireworks, offer to help them soundproof, to the best of your ability, their environment or at least lessen the impact of the firework displays.”
When dealing with PTSD it is important to recognize the issue along with the triggers. Dr. Larson-Stoa encourages veterans to seek mental health treatment for traumatic stress and find tools to work through the triggers.
“Coping by isolating yourself, using substances, or engaging in risky behavior will likely not be overly helpful. When you isolate you distance yourself from those who could help you and bring some relief. You also have ample time to dwell on your thoughts, which will often worsen your emotions and your reactions to your memories,” Dr. Larson-Stoa said.
Mental health resources are available through the VA Health Care System. In addition the National Center for PTSD has more resources available and can be found at https://www.ptsd.va.gov/
Additional resources include, OEF/OIF Readjustment Program can be reached by calling 405-456-3215 or 405-456-2683. The VA Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.