PTSD doesn’t just happen in the front lines

This article on non-combat PTSD is the latest update in what I feel is one of my most poignant works to date. While the sources are still outdated, the content is still relevant, and I tailored the article to be more SEO-friendly. Click here to read the original in its entirety.

Some news outlets and tech websites cited a CareerCast list of the 10 most stressful jobs of 2018.  #1 on the list was enlisted military personnel.

We can all agree to put your life at risk counts as a major stressor.  But believe it or not, a good number of military personnel finish their careers without being deployed.  And among those who did deploy did not go past fortification walls (aka “outside the wire”).  So, if one were to think about it, they shouldn’t count, right? They shouldn’t claim PTSD, right? They should’ve stopped crying like babies and enjoyed their cake gig, right? But, unfortunately, that is what a salty few of us have thought on more than one occasion.

But, just because they didn’t go on a convoy, on patrol, or in an assault, they still served. They still count. I don’t intend at all to lessen the sacrifices that soldiers, marines, or special forces made. However, I would like to speak on our other fellow brothers and sisters in arms. A fight is a fight, whether it’s on or off the battlefield. Also, because, hey, One Team, One Fight, right?

Master Sgt. James Haskell was an aerial gunner for most of his 21-year Air Force career. Now, he struggles with PTSD and says putting on a happy face to get through a day is like wearing a mask.
Master Sgt. James Haskell was an aerial gunner for most of his 21-year Air Force career. Now, he struggles with PTSD and says putting on a happy face to get through a day is like wearing a mask. Master Sgt. Kevin Milliken/Air Force. From an article in military.com

PTSD and burnout

According to an online article in Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

I’d like to think all of us in the service have felt this more than one time.  In a 2001 study on the effects of stress and job functioning, 22 to 40 percent of military men and women experienced high-stress levels in their work or family and personal relationships. But, of course, the data they gathered for their analysis was from a 1995 survey that sampled over 16,000 members across all military branches. Therefore, the results are suspect at best. But, if you were to go to any U.S. station anywhere worldwide, there is at minimum a Military and Family Life Counselor (MFLC) present. Larger encampments have more robust mental health services such as PTSD patient advocates, suicide prevention support groups, and resiliency programs. So these are still pressing issues within the military ranks, and resources are continually devoted to keeping these programs active.

But I still haven’t answered the question as to why the ones cutting your paycheck, cooking your food, or even fixing your plane (I was an aircraft maintainer, I know how it was) are just as stressed as those who shoot guns at the enemy.  Again, not to take away from our commandos, but their stress is different from those behind the fence. So here is where I speculate based on my own experiences.

Pfc. Linaeja White, a health care specialist with Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, scrunches up her face on April 2, 2018, during a Mindfulness Monday class at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Therapies such as transcendental meditation are effective in treating PTSD.
Pfc. Linaeja White, a health care specialist with Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, scrunches up her face on April 2, 2018, during a Mindfulness Monday class at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Therapies such as transcendental meditation are effective in treating PTSD. (Sgt. Elizabeth White/Army). From an article in Military Times.

Behind the front lines

1. Depending on where you go, the ops tempo of that unit is ridiculously higher than what any civilian counterpart experiences. Sure, there are projects with deadlines and clients that will yell at you or no longer receive your services, but your mistakes don’t have the potential to destroy multi-million-dollar machines or take lives.

2. But our first-responders like police and firefighters take the same risks, extending to nurses, doctors, and almost everybody in the medical field. So what makes them different from enlisted?  Unionization (or at least the ability to unionize).  Given enough participants and limited management reprisal, civilians can go on strike.  Suggest “union” to a grunt, and she’ll laugh while spitting in your face.

3. Civilians can walk away once they find better opportunities. All you need to give is two weeks’ notice, correct? The military signs a 4-6-year contract that binds them by law to make the “mission” their number one priority. Also, they can’t call in sick without approval from the base hospital. Other than scheduling leave, the only way a military member can “skip” work is if she has a death in the family. Oh, and it has to be immediate (spouse, father, mother, brother). Anything outside of that is only through the approval of your commander.

The difference between combat and non-combat PTSD is irrelevant. Whether you are in the front line or behind it, everybody serves.
image from Project 22 to ZERO #nomore

Non-combat PTSD, is still PTSD

All the aforementioned conditions contribute to a high enlisted military turnover rate.  An airman doesn’t reenlist (sign another contract).  A marine loses a limb in combat.  A soldier suffers TBI from a mistake he made because he and his co-workers worked 48 hours straight. A sailor gets a psychotic breakdown because he hasn’t left the ship for over a year and a half.  While these are sporadic cases, even non-life-threatening but disabling conditions take a toll on those who have to pick up the slack.  Just because your buddy isn’t at work doesn’t mean you get to take it easy. If that isn’t a PTSD time bomb in the making, I don’t know what is.

So just because troops aren’t out there in firefights doesn’t mean they’re feeling less of the suck.  It’s just doled out differently through 12 to 16-hour shifts trying to accomplish a task with half the resources and half the workforce. That’s why the enlisted military has taken the #1 spot on the most stressful jobs ever since 2012. In my opinion, it should have been ranked #1 in previous years, and I’m pretty sure it will hold that #1 spot for a very long time.

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