After Our Afghanistan Withdrawal, It's Time to Admit We Have a PTSD Problem | Opinion

The U.S. announcing the end of its combat mission in Iraq this month, and its sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, has caused many veterans to revisit past trauma. As a veteran myself, I personally felt the grief and impact of these decisions, involving feelings of heartache, trauma and loss. Americans may be surprised to know that our traditional approach to trauma is broken. If ever there was a time to try new approaches, it is now.

In America, we have a severe problem with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—and it doesn't just affect veterans. At the moment, approximately one in 11 people will get diagnosed PTSD in their lifetime. Many people who have PTSD have difficulty connecting to loved ones or engaging at work, and statistically speaking, the majority go on to suffer from this condition for their entire life.

In addition to the intangible, personal costs to individuals who suffer from PTSD, there's also a huge drain on the American economy. The non-psychiatric costs of PTSD, including hospital and doctor visits alone cost the American economy approximately $23 billion a year. Untreated PTSD has been shown to increase the chances of an individual suffering from chronic depression, sleep apnea and lifelong alcohol and drug dependence.

Our current provisions for veterans suffering from PTSD simply do not work. Only half of our 260,000 war veterans who have a traumatic brain injury seek treatment. Only half of those people receive "minimally adequate treatment." At present, it is clear that we must not only train our young American citizens to become soldiers, but help those soldiers become civilians again.

PTSD is not just a problem that affects veterans; trauma affects everyone in our society throughout the course of our lifetimes—whether directly or indirectly. It's time to look at the state of PTSD in our society as a whole.

PTSD is the long-term impact of enduring a traumatic event. We often think of triggering events as being life-threatening, but that's not always the case. PTSD can be caused by a wide variety of difficult life experiences, not exclusively those experienced by military personnel. Natural or human-caused disasters, motor vehicle accidents, abuse of power and physical, intellectual or psychological assault are only some of the more obvious or extreme examples.

Speaking from personal experience, many years after separating from the U.S. Air Force, I worked at the top of my field in various commercial industries. I had run marathons. I climbed mountains all over North America. On the surface, I was personally and professionally successful. I had a great career where I was recognized and compensated well, and more importantly, I had my physical health; I was safe, warm and secure in the beautiful state of Washington. And I had family and friends who loved me.

Despite all of this, I was not happy. Quite the opposite actually: I was managing long-term depression and chronic anxiety masterfully.

I had a herculean ability to suppress my emotions by plunging myself into work and other pursuits. I didn't want to burden others with what seemed to me insignificant personal challenges. But when I had quiet moments to myself, I was very aware of the lack of fulfillment I felt with my life. From the outside looking in, I had it all, and everything in the world to be happy about. But inside I was struggling to hold it all together.

I know I'm not alone. Anxiety affects 40 million people in the U.S., and only approximately 36 percent of people seek treatment. Both anxiety and depression disorders affect one in four people in the U.K. It is a travesty that the most economically advanced countries in the world don't present a solution to this problem. Given that 70 percent of Americans will experience a traumatic incident in their lifetime, it's time that we tried a new approach.

British armed forces work with the U.S.
In this handout image provided by the Ministry of Defence, the British armed forces work with the U.S. military to evacuate eligible civilians and their families out of the country on Aug. 21, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan. MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images

The current provisions are poor. I would literally say that "I tried everything" to improve my experience before finding what could accurately be called a solution. What I learned through extensive trial, error and ultimately training, education, certification and experience, is that using our conscious minds to decipher unconscious problems is like trying to smooth water with our bare hands; it usually only exacerbates these types of issues.

That's when I discovered unconscious integration techniques, including hypnotherapy. It felt like a lightbulb had been turned on. I was finally utilizing the correct tool to address automatic, unconscious, feeling problems.

What makes unconscious change work so different, and so effective? Although this state appears similar to sleep, you're fully awake and aware of what's going on around you. By strategically relaxing the critical mind, and thus dropping into the alpha brain wave frequency spectrum naturally, you can give your subconscious a vehicle to problem solve and empower healing to happen. Change then happens automatically and naturally from the inside out.

This isn't pseudo-science. In fact, a meta-analysis of 47 studies have found conclusively that hypnotherapy can dramatically reduce the symptoms of PTSD. One further study found that when used on its own, hypnotherapy was as effective, if not more so, than expensive and lengthy psychodynamic psychotherapy.

We are living through hard times. Many have lost their jobs, many have lost their loved ones, and for most, life has been permanently and irreversibly altered. As we are rethinking how we live, work, travel and relate to each other in this COVID era, it's time we also took an honest look at the collective state of our mental health.

Traditional options alone have proven ineffective. It's time to try something new. It's time to build hypnotherapy into our national mental health response strategies.

Mandy Barbee Lanier is a performance coach, certified clinical hypnotherapist (CCHt), and has a MA of economics with 20 years' experience leading teams in the military, corporate and clinical worlds. She is founder and CEO of Palladium Mind Inc.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.