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Writing the blues away

Writing the blues away

Our service personnel witness some of the worst violence and bloodshed when they are deployed in warzones. This is the reason that both active personnel and veterans are tackling serious mental health issues. In specific, the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been repeatedly flagged for not just serving personnel, but more so for the veterans.

It is important to heal, and research suggests that writing therapy maybe the way to do it. Emmerik and Kamphuis had looked into the effectiveness of such therapy can help people heal from the trauma plaguing them.

Getting started

Whether you are writing for yourself or looking into this to help someone you love, remember that one doesn’t have to be Shakespeare to get the job done. The whole point of the exercise is to put one’s feelings into words – whatever one is most comfortable with goes. Check out these helpful steps that you can follow, or send to someone suffering from PTSD:
  • Find a therapist that can work with you on this. For cases of PTSD where the trauma is too severe, reliving it alone may not be the best idea. So, make sure you have a support system in place.
  • You will need a dedicated journal for the job. You can write by hand or choose to create a file on your laptop.
  • Set a time aside to do the writing. Don’t overwhelm yourself by adding too much to your plate, find a quiet corner where you can be alone with your thoughts. Pick a day of the week and give yourself 20 minutes at least to get the job done.
  • Start by focusing on imagining the event that you find traumatic. There’s no rush to get it all there in one try, so only push yourself if you feel overwhelmed.
  • The best way to put things onto paper is to give as much detail as possible. This will help you see what parts of your experience are the most overwhelming, and you can deal with this accordingly
  • One way to make revisiting trauma less hurtful or overwhelming is to go over it little by little instead of going at it altogether. You will be writing about the same event multiple times, so try to start by describing one aspect instead of the entire episode.
  • Read and then re-read the text that you produce. This will help add perspective to whatever you are feeling.
  • Focus on how the traumatic experience made you feel – was there only bad or did you also take away good from the event? Do you feel anger or did the experience make you feel scared? When you look at what emotions are tied to the events you will be able to sort through them.
  • When you first start out, your only focus should be yourself. Often people with PTSD will try to reach out to others to help them see the positives of journaling. While it is great to become someone else’s support, don’t try to run on broken legs. However, once you feel that you can manage, reaching out to others may be a great way to sort of enhance your healing.

Why worry

Things like writing therapy are the need of the house for many service personnel and vets.

Numbers from the Ministry of Defence show that mental health is a problem for all branches of our defence. The number of total personnel undergoing some form of assessment for mental health has grown from 1.8% to 3.2% between the 2007-8 and 2017-18 period – which means three in every 100 are being assessed. On the other hand, the rate for PTSD is two in every 1,000.

At the forefront are members of the UK Armed Forces, where four in five personnel that were assessed during 2017-18 were found to have a mental disorder. The situation isn’t much different for veterans, who walk away from service with many emotional scars.

A study by King’s College London shows that PTSD overall saw an increase from 4% in 2004-5 to 6% in 2014-16. Around 17% of the veterans returning from their combat roles warzones reported having PTSD. The study also concluded that the risk of someone in active combat developing PTSD was far greater.

It is important to take mental health as seriously as we take physical health. When someone is injured in combat, they are not left on their own to figure things out, they are given immediate care. It should be no different for mental health.


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