BACKGROUND

This section describes several psychological aspects involving many public service professions and chronic exposure to traumatic events. The term “public service professional” is used in reference to the men and women who serve their country in military, police, first responder, fire fighter, medical, or in any other public service profession that exposes them to stress and danger. The term "warrior" is used to refer to military personnel and veterans collectively.

MISSION FIRST
Simple psychological defense mechanisms such as denial, repression, suppression, and rationalization allow public service professionals to cope with work-related stress and danger. These behaviors are natural, adaptive, and enable them to maintain single-pointed attention during extreme situations. It’s a job requirement to place the mission first and temporary suppression of emotions allows it to be done. However, this doesn’t come without a price. Researchers over the past century have demonstrated that chronic stress and traumatic experiences can leave a lasting impression. At one point or another, many public service professionals struggle with emotional distress, substance abuse, or even thoughts of suicide.

ADAPTATION BACKFIRES
It appears that certain memories and emotions cannot be effectively forgotten or ignored. Instead, they demand to be worked through and resolved – even decades after they were first experienced. However, many people find this challenging, as some experiences are so uncomfortable that “not going there” just makes sense. But, sooner or later we find ourselves asking: “Why can’t I leave the past behind?”
The answer appears to be at least partially a topic of biological adaptation. The human brain learned early on to protect itself from harm and not forgetting traumatic memories helped us survive and avoid dangers in the future. Those early humans who did not experience stress and vigilance in the presence of danger were removed from the gene pool by predators before they could reproduce. Thus, modern humans are the product of numerous generations of “active selection” for vigilance and not forgeting dangerous memories. However, when such an organism is exposed to chronic danger, the drawback is a high risk for becoming “hypervigilant” and truly unable to forget the past. When this occurs, the brain continues to search for danger even when there is none to be found. Thus, our previously adaptive evolutionary traits unintentionally backfired and lef many public service professionals unable to find the inner peace that they used to know.

holder1WARRIOR STRESS
Terms such as “shell shock”, “combat fatigue”, and “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) have been used to describe the wide range of symptoms seen in people who were exposed to life-threatening dangers during war. According to recent estimates more veterans died due to complications of psychological conditions due to the war than died during Vietnam War itself. In 2011, more than 300,000 U.S. veterans of the wars in the Middle East had been diagnosed with PTSD and almost every waking-hour a veteran committed suicide (approximately 18 suicides daily).

SUPPORTING WARRIORS
As a nation, we try to support our warriors the best we can. However, many warriors choose not to seek help due to several barriers to care (i.e. the stigma perceived to be associated with behavioral health services). In accordance with the warrior ethos, they refuse to quit, and unfortunately often suffer on their own for a long time before asking for a helping hand. When warriors finally do seek help, they often feel much better. No single therapy that has been shown to “cure” PTSD, but most warriors have at least some improvent in their symptoms. However; many warriors do not heal enough to return to full duty in their units and many are medically separated from active duty.

SOLUTIONS AND PREVENTION
A comprehensive review of PTSD and depression in military veterans was published by the RAND Corporation (2008).
The review was titled “Invisible Wounds of War” and one of their conclusions was (p.497)1:

“More research is also needed to evaluate innovative treatment methods, since not all individuals benefit from
the currently available treatments.”


Preventive psychological measures should be a high priority in preparing public service professionals. However, this has not generally been the case in military personnel (p.381)1:

“Many different therapies have been used to treat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. But few treatments are available before symptoms may arise, and little research has been done on primary prevention—in the case of soldiers, before they are deployed.”

CONCLUSION
Nature “selected for" humans who had the capacity to recall and become vigilant when encountering stressful and dangerous experiences. This adaptation backfired when humans began to experience unusually long and intense periods of danger. Violence within the U.S. and years of war have left many public service professionals and their families in distress. Behavioral health services have yet to find a working solution and research for new approaches continues.

BATTLE TAP hopes to offer a solution:
  • It is designed as a free online self-help tool for emotional stress.
  • It may potentially prevent the onset of stress syndromes if used regularly or soon after traumatic experiences. (Research is need to further investigate and confirm this.)
  • It may also bypass barriers to care (i.e. stigma) and reach people who otherwise would not receive help.
Exposure therapies involving acupoint stimulation have not yet been proven to perform these functions in large, randomized, controlled studies. However, preliminary studies and anecdotal reports suggest that many people have benefitted from acupressure-based self-help tools (i.e. "EFT" or “tapping”). Meticulous scientific studies are needed to evaluate these preliminary findings, but such research often lags years behind the initial findings. Thus, until this research is completed, the reader is encouraged to try “tapping” and decide for themselves if it works for them or not.

REFERENCES

1. Tanielian, T., Jaycox, L. H. (Eds). (2008). Invisible wounds of war: psychological and cognitive injuries, their consequences, and services to assist recovery. Santa Monica: Rand Corp. MG-720-CCF.