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Turn Post-traumatic Stress Into Post-traumatic Growth

PTSD Infographic National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, every June, is one way to spread awareness about issues related to the condition. The individuals with PTSD are affected every day of the year, so knowing where to turn for support may help, and the treatment can be tailored to the person (DOD Graphic).

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You likely attended a briefing on post-traumatic stress (PTS) during your time in the military. This is good, as post-traumatic stress can be an incredibly difficult experience and getting help is a critical first step.

But what do you know about post-traumatic growth (PTG)? PTG is the process of going through an extremely tough experience and coming back stronger with important lessons learned about life.

PTG is a common human phenomenon across cultures and religions throughout time. Yet there are some common myths about PTS and the possibility of experiencing PTG that are important to know for warfighters and those who support them:

Myth #1: You can experience PTS or PTG, but not both.

Fact: PTS is a normal experience when facing trauma and often happens before you can experience PTG. When you experience trauma, a part of the normal human-stress response is to deeply reflect on what happened to help you learn from it and improve for future adversities.

This might include flashbacks or not being able to let things go. This process can be painful, troubling, and require the help of therapy to navigate. But this does NOT mean you are damaged.

In fact, this process is normal and can eventually lead to growth. Those who don't have some symptoms of PTS are actually less likely to grow from the experience and instead just bounce back to who they were prior to the trauma.

Growth occurs when the trauma you experienced becomes a turning point: That is, who you are after the experience is better than who you were before. Symptoms of PTS are part of that growing and changing process that enables you to transform.

Myth #2: If you haven't experienced PTG by now, you never will.

Fact: There's no deadline to grow from trauma. You can experience PTG six months or 10 years after a crisis. Further, you can continue to grow in additional ways even if you believe you've already grown from a specific trauma.

The trauma is just the catalyst: Your deep reflection and rebuilding your beliefs and values lead to your growth. This can happen over many years and continue throughout your life.

In fact, some researchers of PTG expanded the definition of trauma to include any experience that shatters one's worldview, their core values and deeply held beliefs about themselves, others, or the world. So, whether it's the death of a loved one, serious injury, painful breakup, or social isolation during a pandemic, the ongoing process of rebuilding your worldview better and stronger is what leads to your growth. This process can take a long time with many ups and downs along the way.

Myth #3: Experiencing PTG means "happily ever after."

Fact: "Post-traumatic growth means who you are now is better and stronger in a meaningful way than who you were before the event," said Army Lt. Col. Oscar Cabrera, director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in Silver Spring, Maryland. "But it does not mean you're perfect or that life will be perfect. You'll still likely face hard times, make mistakes, and find more ways to grow. You might also go back to past behaviors or have troubling times thinking back on the trauma."

Facing these types of challenges doesn't mean you didn't grow. It means you are human, complex, and still a work in progress. Use HPRC's optimism self-check or gratitude calendar to help yourself continue to reflect, grow, and connect with the people and values you care most about.

To learn more and take a short survey to see how you might have experienced PTG from a recent crisis, read HPRC's article on the 5 benefits of post-traumatic growth.

Human Performance Resources by CHAMP is the educational arm of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP), a Department of Defense center of excellence located at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Maryland. HPRC provides research-based facts and holistic, performance optimization resources that help members of the military community optimize their military performance by staying physically and mentally fit, fueling and hydrating properly, maintaining social ties, and staying resilient - all pieces of the puzzle that make up Total Force Fitness.

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Seizures among Active Component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007 – 2016

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1/25/2018
This retrospective study estimated the rates of seizures diagnosed among deployed and non-deployed service members to identify factors associated with seizures and determine if seizure rates differed in deployment settings. It also attempted to evaluate the associations between seizures, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by assessing correlations between the incidence rates of seizures and prior diagnoses of TBI and PTSD. Seizures have been defined as paroxysmal neurologic episodes caused by abnormal neuronal activity in the brain. Approximately one in 10 individuals will experience a seizure in their lifetime. Line graph 1: Annual crude incidence rates of seizures among non-deployed service members, active component, U.S. Armed Forces data •	A total of 16,257 seizure events of all types were identified among non-deployed service members during the 10-year surveillance period. •	The overall incidence rate was 12.9 seizures per 10,000 person-years (p-yrs.) •	There was a decrease in the rate of seizures diagnosed in the active component of the military during the 10-year period. Rates reached their lowest point in 2015 – 9.0 seizures per 10,000 p-yrs. •	Annual rates were markedly higher among service members with recent PTSD and TBI diagnoses, and among those with prior seizure diagnoses. Line graph 2: Annual crude incidence rates of seizures by traumatic brain injury (TBI) and recent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis among non-deployed active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces •	For service members who had received both TBI and PTSD diagnoses, seizure rates among the deployed and the non-deployed were two and three times the rates among those with only one of those diagnoses, respectively. •	Rates of seizures tended to be higher among service members who were: in the Army or Marine Corps, Female, African American, Younger than age 30, Veterans of no more than one previous deployment, and in the occupations of combat arms, armor, or healthcare Line graph 3: Annual crude incidence rates of seizures diagnosed among service members deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008 – 2016  •	A total of 814 cases of seizures were identified during deployment to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 9-year surveillance period (2008 – 2016). •	For deployed service members, the overall incidence rate was 9.1 seizures per 10,000 p-yrs. •	Having either a TBI or recent PTSD diagnosis alone was associated with a 3-to 4-fold increase in the rate of seizures. •	Only 19 cases of seizures were diagnosed among deployed individuals with a recent PTSD diagnosis during the 9-year surveillance period. •	Overall incidence rates among deployed service members were highest for those in the Army, females, those younger than age 25, junior enlisted, and in healthcare occupations. Access the full report in the December 2017 MSMR (Vol. 24, No. 12). Go to www.Health.mil/MSMR

This infographic documents a retrospective study which estimated the rates of seizures diagnosed among deployed and non-deployed service members to identify factors associated with seizures and determine if seizure rates differed in deployment settings. The study also evaluated the associations between seizures, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by assessing correlations between the incidence rates of seizures and prior diagnoses of TBI and PTSD.

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This infographic provides information on Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) diagnosis and treatment of active duty U.S. Armed Forces to help primary care providers screen high-risk individuals and encourage patients to explore OSA treatment options for managing this burden of disease. The data comes from an analysis of sleep apnea conducted from 2004 through 2016.  With appropriate diagnosis and treatment of OSA, this growing health concern for military populations can be effectively managed. OSA symptoms include snoring, gasping for breath during sleep, headaches, insomnia and daytime fatigue. During the surveillance period, OSA were highest in those aged 40 years or older, male non-Hispanic  black, obese, army service members, married, had more than one prior deployment or had completed 18 years or more of service.  The incidence rate among individuals aged 40 years or older was more than 3-fold higher in 2015 compared to 2004. Individuals serving 18 or more years had a 3-fold higher incidence rate of OSA in 2015, compared to 2004. The 12-year incidence rate in service members serving 18 years or more was more than 2-fold higher than those with 11-17 years of service.  Improved screening, referral, and treatment have been recommended for individuals who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, in which OSA-associated fatigue and poor sleep quality can exacerbate symptoms.  Additionally, the STOP-BANG questionnaire for sleep apnea may help primary care providers to screen high-risk individuals and identify those whose symptoms warrant further evaluation. Individuals who suffer from OSA have increased rates of cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, motor vehicle accidents, cognitive impairment, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Learn more about OSA and treatment options for managing this burden of disease by visiting Health.Mil/AFHSB

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This infographic documents an increase in the incidence of Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) diagnoses and associated attrition among U.S. service members over a 12-year surveillance period from 2004-2015. It also examines time to separation from military service after an incident of OSA diagnosis. Here are key facts about the OSA incidence rates by service: •	Rates of OSA were lowest in young service members, white non-Hispanics, Marines, air crew, and in those with less than five-years of service or no prior deployments. •	The category of pilots/ air crew consistently had the lowest OSA incidence rates, compared to all other occupations •	The annual incidence rates for the Army rose steadily from 2008 to 2015 and were higher during this period than the rates of the other services  The high percentage of cases diagnosed prior to separation from service is a concern because OSA as a large health and economic burden for the armed services is a treatable and partially preventable disease. For more information on OSA, appropriate screening and prevention strategies to improve both individual health and mission performance, visit Health.mil/AFHSB

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