Four Things You Need To Know About PTSD And Student Veterans
More than a million students enrolled in campuses across the country are veterans. Many of them served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Some saw horrific things in combat, lost comrades or were injured.
Kaily Cannizzaro, a psychologist for a Department of Veterans Affairs program that helps college students, sat down with KUNC’s Erin O’Toole to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental wound that affects about one in five war veterans.
1. PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced trauma, including both civilians and soldiers.
About 7-8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. “PTSD is a brain issue or a mind issue. Our brain is a very amazing muscle that is often just trying to protect us,” Cannizzaro says. “PTSD is exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence.”
2. As many as 20 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experience PTSD, including students.
“PTSD is not something that all veterans have,” says Cannizzaro. “At least 80 percent of veterans do not have PTSD.” The numbers vary based on each conflict, with the highest rates of PTSD estimated to occur in Vietnam War veterans (nearly 30 percent).
3. Knowledge is power when breaking down the stigma surrounding PTSD.
“There is a stigma, behind mental health, PTS, PTSD,” says Cannizzaro. “It’s a natural human instinct to build a schema in our minds. That can vary from anything from survival to meet our biological needs, to hey let me try to make sense of the people around us, or the environment around us.”
While these schemas and stereotypes can be helpful, in the case of PTSD, a stigma forms when bad information is presented. “Media sometimes can portray an idea that might not be completely accurate,” says Cannizzaro. “Or based on current data on actually what PTSD looks like.”
To combat bad information, Cannizzaro encourages dialogue. “Having nonthreatening forums where people can derive information” can help break down stigmas. Additional, she will “encourage student veterans to pave the way for their fellow veterans.” Cannizzaro says that most efforts should focus on “really trying to change the narrative of society.”
4. Although every person is different, healing or recovery from PTSD is possible.
Cannizzaro says recovery happens “more times than not” in the people she works with, though the path to recovery varies from person to person.
She likens it to diabetes, which might require insulin for some people, but not for others once their symptoms are under control. “PTSD is similar in the sense that a regimen of medication [or mental health care] might be called for, but that could then transition to something more functional,” says Cannizzaro. “There is something biological happening where our brain naturally recovers, because that’s what our brain is meant to do.”
Cannizzaro, part of the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) initiative, will be speaking at Colorado State University as part of the Veterans Symposium taking place October 24 through 25.