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Impact Of Stress And Anxiety on Soldiers and their Families

Stress and anxiety are physical, emotional, and psychological problems usually associated with highly-driven professionals, corporate executives, artists and performers, and even individual’s with a history of substance abuse. Their work involves a flurry of activities, a set of nearly impossible deadlines, and the need to consistently “perform” at peak levels.

But perhaps, it is high time to pay more attention to the enormous stress and anxiety felt by those people whose jobs include the daily pressure of possibly losing their lives. Needless to say, soldiers in the battlefield are among those who are most prone to emotional and psychological distress. The War in Iraq, called Operation Iraqi Freedom in military terms, began in March 20, 2003. It is considered one of the costliest armed conflicts entered into by the United States — in terms of funding and the toll on human lives. As of August 2007, at least 3,773 American soldiers had been killed and more than 27,000 have been wounded in combat operations in Iraq.

Aside from the men and women who find themselves in harm’s way, another group of people is registering high on the depression and anxiety scale: military families. On the homefront, another battle is taking place. The pain and suffering of the families of those killed or wounded in Iraq is equally tragic. The stress and anxiety experienced by military families, for the most part, cannot be quantified or measured in the same way as it is done for body counts and daily expenditures for military operations. Each tearful farewell during the send-off of troops headed to Iraq or the grief of seeing the casket of a loved one who died in battle are now almost everyday scenes in different parts of America. It is also important to note that while many military families support the troops, they do not necessarily support the war.

In a recent Army report, it was revealed that there have been at least 1,000 cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by U.S. servicemen and women who returned from Iraq. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder experienced by individuals who have undergone a very traumatic incident. However, it should not be confused with the usual grief felt by most people after the death of a loved one. The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, anger or rage, emotional detachment, memory loss, hyper-vigilance, and depression.

While caring for servicemen and women diagnosed with PTSD had been a major priority for the U.S. Department of Defense, stress management programs for military families is not exactly on top of the list in terms of funding. Many organizations formed by spouses and family members of military personnel have had to raise funds for therapy sessions for their support groups. The challenges faced by military families is also daunting and demands a lot of commitment. Aside from the stress and anxiety brought about by long periods of separation from their loved ones deployed in conflict areas, they also have to adjust living under a single parent home, or learn how to care for a returning family member that was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Iraq and other places where U.S. troops are sent.

In many cases, military doctors and psychiatrists have had to prescribe anti-depressant prescriptions for use by returning military personnel and those with PTSD. It is also not uncommon for some military spouses and children to request for psychiatric help and drugs to alleviate their depression, especially if they have lost a loved one from the military.

Both the U.S. Department of Defense and the military family associations have made headway in bringing the issue of combat-related stress to the fore. Government funds have been alloted to run therapy programs such as the Army Combat Stress Control and the Operational Stress Control and Readiness in the Navy and the Marines.

More than just the actual outcome of the war, the impact of combat operations should be closely monitored to help many military personnel and their families to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives, and in the process, get treatment for emotional and psychological disorders. Indeed, aside from securing victory in Iraq, efforts should also be made to help many American military personnel and their loved ones to win the war within.

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