Effects of combat exposure, trauma experience on mental health

In light of the recent celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, it is paramount that we celebrate the dead, especially these great martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sovereignty of this great nation.

We owe it to them to always remember them in our prayers and support their families. It is rather hypocritical if we remember only these heroes and forget the living ones who are still giving their time and lives in the service of this country.

The lives of these soldiers are not easy, especially those in the North-East fighting against the insurgency. Recurrent combat exposure takes a toll on the mental health of many.

Combat exposure is one of the most common events that lead to the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an abnormal condition characterized by people who fail to recover from terrifying or shocking events. Unlike naturally recovering after scary situations, patients with PTSD still suffer from such events and do not fully recover.

Symptoms frequently experienced include Flashbacks, scary thoughts, anger, bad dreams, feeling detached and isolated from others.

More specific symptoms can be classified into Negative thoughts and Feelings; arousal and reactive symptoms consisting of recklessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating; Avoidance- in which the patient tries as much as possible to avoid places, thinking or doing things that bring the traumatic experience to memory; and Intrusive memories characterized by nightmares and emotional distress.

During war and strife with the enemies, active soldiers on duty are exposed to death or near-death experiences. The exposure to these high- risk scenarios enables the senses to adapt for survival, leaving some nonetheless, scarred.

Hence some of these soldiers arrive home but do not remain the same. Sleeping patterns may be affected and mood changes may be observed.

Assuming that all PTSD patients have gone through warfare experience is wrong and misleading, as there are other factors as well that lead to this condition, for instance, sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a prevalent crime in the society, widely underreported, partly due to fear of stigmatization or due to poor or non-prosecution of sexual offenders. Not only does it occur in young girls and women, but it also occurs in males as well. The victims are usually coerced to commit sexual acts with the perpetrators leaving some with injuries, diseases and some with suicidal thoughts and in shock.

Sadly, this gross invasion of privacy, has reported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is experienced by one out of four girls and one out of ten boys in Nigeria before reaching the age of consent.

Rape cases are increasingly becoming rampant, with the girl child especially. More painfully, they are perpetrated by people known to the victims who may even reside in the surrounding neighborhood of the victims.

Places of learning usually assumed to be safe starting from the University, Polytechnics, and other institutions of higher learning, to Secondary schools and even primary schools are no longer safe for children.

For fear of death, failure, and expulsion, students are being forced into sexual acts with peers and are even being pressurized by lecturers and other officials to engage in sexual relationships with them.

Inevitably, there is a psychological and mental effect on the traumatized victims. Some victims may end up developing PTSD or other psychological disorders, some are filled with self-guilt and some might even nurse suicidal thoughts. Other events leading to PTSD also include serious accidents and physical assault.

There is a great need to improve the mental health of the general population starting from the military by providing psychological services, allowing them to spend time with their loved ones, providing cognitive therapy, relaxation training and providing medications for those diagnosed with PTSD; to the rest of the populace, especially the most vulnerable- the girl child, the young boys and the youth population inclusive.

Therefore, efforts should be made to strengthen the war against sexual assault by enforcement agencies. Safe spaces should be created for victims of these experiences to allow them to feel comfortable and improve recuperation from the trauma.

Media should report cases of abuse by victims while assuring their anonymity and safety should be set up and improved and efforts are to be taken duly to investigate the crime.

Also, mental health should be taken seriously by the government, the health agencies and each citizen as well because it affects and influences our everyday. The older population is not left out on the issue of mental health. Other mental disorders such as anxiety, dementia, substance abuse, and depression are particularly common among them as well. A healthy population is a wealthy population.

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