Meditation helping mitigate effects of PTSD on veterans

From the Houston Chronicle

SAN ANTONIO – Sometimes, when Pedro Meza is confronted by memories he can’t understand, the monster comes out. The former Army Special Operations officer developed post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the bombing deaths of children in a Latin American village in 1985. He also suffers from a traumatic brain injury that keeps him from remembering the time, place and circumstances surrounding frightening images in his mind. “There are images in my brain that I can’t explain,” he said. “I’m haunted by things I see but cannot understand.”

920x1240 (1)In March 2014, after years of abusing alcohol to cope with terrifying memories and trying different medications that didn’t help, Meza discovered meditation at a workshop for veterans, and his life changed for the better.

A growing number of veterans are discovering how meditation can ease symptoms of PTSD. A study is underway at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston to understand how a form of the therapy, called mindfulness meditation, affects stress levels of soldiers.

The need for PTSD treatments in the military is great. Many veterans are affected by the disorder, which is characterized by anxiety attacks, nightmares, flashbacks and depression, among other issues.
A June report by the Veterans Health Administration showed that 20.5 percent – or more than 391,000 – of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans received PTSD-related treatments from 2001 to 2014. As much as 30 percent, or 2.7 million, of Vietnam-era veterans had experienced PTSD at some point in their lives, according to one study.

“It affects servicemen from all areas. It changes things drastically,” said Emily Bower, a psychologist at Audie Murphy VA Hospital. “They’re more likely to have trouble maintaining work, more likely to abuse substances, more likely to have relationship problems with a spouse or children.”

The VA reported three years ago that as many as 22 veterans committed suicide every day. And Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD are three times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than veterans without the disorder, says a study published in the 2011 Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

Traditional treatments for PTSD include therapy and prescriptions for antidepressants, antianxiety medications and sleep aids. But these methods don’t always work, so military officials and organizations serving veterans recently started offering meditation as an alternative treatment.

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