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Memorial Day and Living with Post-Traumatic Stress

By November 2, 2019 June 23rd, 2020 Blog

Memorial Day is a holiday that honors the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the United States military and occurs during the last Monday of May. For most, Memorial Day is a time of celebration as Memorial Day is typically seen as the beginning of summer. For most veterans, however, Memorial Day brings about a wave of emotions, reminding them of those who have passed away defending our country. Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to be the most affected by this day of remembrance. Memorial Day, which is dedicated to remembering the fallen, can trigger painful memories, which may lead to serious emotional distress.

For many veterans, Memorial Day brings a sharp increase of traumatic memories as well as feelings of acute grief and loss, and in some cases, a heavy burden of survivor’s guilt. During a time of immense pain and grief, it becomes very probable that one may turn to suicide as a means to ending their suffering. Every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide, and on a holiday like Memorial Day, where veterans’ painful and traumatic memories are brought into the forefront, it becomes a very dangerous situation. People with PTS and PTSD are even more vulnerable at this time, as they are already in a place of pain and anguish.

History of Memorial Day

After the Civil War, a war that claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history ended in the spring of 1865, people began to hold springtime tributes for the countless fallen soldiers. They would do so by decorating their graves with flowers and recite prayers.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, declared a nationwide day of remembrance for May 30. He named this day Decoration Day, as it was not the anniversary of any particular battle, just a day of remembrance.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Today, cities and towns across the country host Memorial Day parades each year, typically incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Additionally, people will also visit cemeteries and memorials as done since the inception of the holiday. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war, a tradition that began with a World War I poem.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress?

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTS is a common, normal and often adaptive response to experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. Nearly everyone who experiences a traumatic event will show at least a few signs of PTS. The brain is hard-wired to tell the body to tense the muscles, pump more blood and breathe faster when a person is under extreme stress. These reactions are known as the fight-or-flight response. This fight-or-flight response is a normal reflex during and sometimes even after a traumatic event, which is why PTS is considered a normal reaction and not a mental illness. Other symptoms of PTS include:

  • Shaky hands
  • Feelings of nervousness and fear
  • Avoidance of anything that reminds a person of their traumatic event
  • Nightmares

Although they can be momentarily intense, symptoms of PTS usually diminish a few days after the event and will not cause any prolonged meaningful interference with a person’s life. Since PTS is not a disorder, treatment is not required as the symptoms will likely improve or go away on their own. However, if the symptoms last for more than a month without any signs of getting better, the person may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder that affects people who have either experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Any stressful, shocking, disturbing, and/or dangerous event can cause a person to develop PTSD. Some common events that lead to PTSD are natural disasters, serious accidents, combat, assault, and terrorist attacks. PTSD can happen to anyone; 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely as men.

The symptoms associated with PTSD are as follows:

  • Avoiding anything that reminds the person of their traumatic experience
  • Irritability typically joined with outbursts of anger
  • Reckless or self-destructive behaviors
  • Easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about oneself and the world around them
  • Feelings of detachment from the people in their lives and the world around them

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last longer than a month and must be preventing a person from completing their normal daily activities. Many people will develop symptoms within the first three months of experiencing trauma, but symptoms can appear later in life. Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event will end up with PTSD. It is important to note that there is no way to know if a person will or will not experience PTSD symptoms after experiencing trauma.

Importance of Early Intervention and Treatment

On Memorial Day, it is important to help those around you who are veterans and are experiencing symptoms of PTSD and PTS. Early intervention and treatment for those suffering from PTS and PTSD is crucial to healing emotionally. Fortunately, there are treatments available, such as Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART),  to help individuals return to their daily life.

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from trauma and/or PTSD.  Uncharacteristic behavior can become increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, only one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychological treatment. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The therapy works equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced.

No matter how bad things may be, there is always hope, and there is always someone available to help you through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more about ART or to find a therapist near you.