By Jillian Bullock
It is estimated that 2.4 million Americans, males and females, have served on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan. Being discharged from the military and reunited with loved ones should be a happy moment for veterans. However, many of them must now fight another war – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a disease that causes extreme anxiety that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal.
It makes sense that many soldiers, who have been trained to kill, or military members who have witnessed death up close and personal, have an extremely difficult time adjusting back into a normal routine once they are home. Unfortunately, many don’t make the adjustment very well when it comes to assimilating back into society.
In fact, PTSD affects one in every eight veterans returning home from combat. Although, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has diagnosed almost 250,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with PTSD, they feel that number should be much higher. Many servicemen and women don’t report the problems they are having for a number of reasons. Instead, to deal with their depression, headaches, insomnia, sleeplessness, paranoia, anger issues, violent outbursts, or thoughts of suicide many resort to alcohol or drug (legal and illegal) abuse.
Psychologists and mental health workers understand that those who go to war will often experience mild to traumatic after-effects and psychological issues which can linger for months, years or even a lifetime. This isn’t anything new since war and the consequences of combat have been going on for centuries. What is different is a new way to help military men and women heal.
Four years ago, a San Diego Army veteran, Todd Vance, founded Pugilistic Offensive Warriors Mixed Martial Arts (POW MMA), a non-profit organization for veterans. As Vance stated when he was featured on “HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” MMA often works as therapy because it satisfies a need that soldiers miss.
“Physically, it satisfies that adrenaline rush. It satisfies that intensity that I missed from combat,” Vance explained. “Mentally, it really does calm the mind because you’re forced to be present in the moment.”
Shorty after he returned home from Iraq, Vance started showing signs of PTSD. A former competitive martial artist and boxer, Vance used MMA as a form of treatment. Since Vance opened the doors to his facility he’s noticed his students, who are on active duty and veterans, have shown remarkable improvement just like he did.
How MMA Helps:
- Those who served in the military form a “brotherhood” which they miss once they return home. They find this camaraderie in MMA with other female and male veterans.
- They train hard just like when they were in the military.
- They have rules they must follow.
- They stop abusing alcohol and drugs because they can’t train if they’re not in top shape.
- They feel safe, no enemies in the gym; only training partners helping one another get better as a fighter and to cope with life.
- They find a place where it’s not a sign of weakness to show they’re suffering.
- It allows servicemen and women to release their frustration and anger in a controlled manner.
- Helps them maintain focus and discipline.
- Others understand what they went through; they can relate.
Doctors, psychologists and mental health professionals are quick to point out that even though MMA may help those who are struggling with PTSD it isn’t a cure; it isn’t therapy even though it can be therapeutic. Plus, some experts say MMA training could backfire because it could trigger reliving the original trauma.
Like any form of treatment nothing is 100% and each person must find what works best for him or her. But after years of treating returning servicemen and women with traditional talk therapy and medication these methods haven’t worked for far too many. However, MMA is proving to be a coping mechanism that is helping hundreds of soldiers find some peace and normalcy in their lives.
With an average of 22 veterans committing suicide each day, according to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, Vance and other MMA instructors who use mixed martial arts as a tool for recovery may have hit upon a form of treatment that actually works.
If anyone is suffering from PTSD and you are thinking about taking up mixed martial arts talk it over with your mental health professional or counselor first and then do research to find a qualified MMA instructor who understands your condition.
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