Non-Flash version

John: Armed Conflict

John is a soldier returning from a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. John’s unit was targeted by a hidden sniper and his colleague was shot to pieces right in front of him. He was covered in his colleague’s blood and bits of his flesh and he felt deep disgust. John was terrified and felt powerless, not knowing where the shooter was hiding. He wonders why he did not also die. Upon returning to his base, he developed severe headaches.

Victim’s response and symptoms

The image of his colleague’s disfigured face comes from nowhere to haunt John. He is unable to see raw meat or blood without thinking of his friend. Sometimes when there is noise outside, he thinks he can hear gunfire and he begins to see images of the traumatic scene. At these times his heart pounds and he sweats profusely. He also feels like falling to the ground for cover, but knowing that it is not real he resists.

John does not remember his dreams, but his wife has told him that he talks in his sleep. He also frequently wakes up with a jolt, drenched in sweat and panicked. His spasms are so intense that his wife prefers to sleep in a separate room.

For John, being drunk is a way to forget the deep disgust he felt and to numb his pain. John’s personality has changed. He has a much shorter temper than before and has difficulty controlling his emotions, which leads him to isolate himself. He also has chronic joint and shoulder pain which for him, are a reminder of his trauma. He also suffers from a number of mystery ailments for which he takes all sorts of medications.

John now avoids anything that serves to remind him of the event, such as the meat counter at the supermarket, fireworks displays, or even watching the news or action films. He never talks to anyone about what he has been through ‘because they would not understand.’ All of his friends are soldiers or former soldiers.

The psychologist’s observations

Experiences such as John’s are common in soldiers, even those serving on peacekeeping missions. Particularly traumatic armed conflicts can lead to post-traumatic stress. Soldiers often exhibit associated chronic pain problems, and are more likely than others to develop behavioural problems and hyperarousal symptoms.

Traumatic event and peritraumatic response

John appears to have felt extreme fear during the traumatic event and was distressed at seeing his fellow soldier disfigured.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

John is exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress:

  • Intrusive thoughts and nightmares: John has nightmares nearly every night. He sometimes has trouble distinguishing his memories from reality.
  • Physiological reactions: When he relives the event, John has physiological reactions similar to those he had experienced during the attack, such as sweating and an elevated heart rate.
  • Behaviour disorders: John is sometimes aggressive and finds it hard to control his temper.
  • Sleep problems: John has trouble sleeping.
  • Avoidance: John is unable to watch fireworks or see a supermarket meat counter. He refuses to talk to anyone about his experience and has little social contact.
  • Alcohol abuse: People with post-traumatic stress sometimes try to deal with their symptoms with alcohol or drugs.

Other problems

  • Physical problems: Unexplained physical pains as well as extreme tiredness are not uncommon after a traumatic experience.

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009