Warning: Your fireworks can trigger PTSD
For 241 years, America has celebrated Independence Day every 4th of July – and for many, those celebrations aren’t complete without fireworks. For the veterans who have fought for our freedom, however, these celebrations can be difficult if they suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a mental health disorder caused by experiencing a traumatic event. Any traumatic experience can cause PTSD, including sexual assault, natural disasters or military combat. For veterans with PTSD, exploding fireworks can trigger their PTSD because of their similarity to sounds on the battlefield.
“Although most people are aware of the physical dangers of lighting fireworks, the emotional side effects are commonly overlooked,” said Dr. Deborah Chiles, a psychologist on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Today, there are more than 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with PTSD, and the true number is likely higher. Fireworks pose a real threat during their time of healing, so it is crucial to be mindful of the effects your Independence Day celebrations can have.”
Some groups, like Military with PTSD, have been trying to raise awareness in recent years by offering free yard signs to veterans with PTSD. Their goal is to help veterans alert their neighbors and ask for courtesy on the holiday.
PTSD’s effects can last from a few weeks to a lifetime, and treatment options include psychotherapy and/or medication. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are four primary types of PTSD symptoms: flashbacks, avoidance, negative thoughts and hyperarousal. All of these symptoms can be triggered by situations that are similar to the original trauma – and fireworks are no exception.
“No one wants to ruin the fun, but if you know a veteran lives nearby, it may be courteous to check in with them ahead of the holiday and let them know if you plan to light off any fireworks nearby,” said Dr. Chiles.
“It’s important for new veterans to take note of their emotional risk during the holiday and try to have some coping strategies in place,” she adds. “Experienced vets likely already plan around scheduled professional displays, but may be caught off guard by casual neighborhood celebrations.”
If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms of PTSD, please schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor for more information.
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