War veterans being failed by PTSD treatment, new research has found

Online news
28 June 2019

War veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exhibit a range of physical symptoms that current treatments do not address, new research has found.

These veterans were found to be more likely to develop physical symptoms including headaches, tremors, stomach and muscle pain, indigestion and shortness of breath, in addition to common mental symptoms.   

The research, to be presented at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Congress, calls for new interventions to treat the physical and psychological symptoms which could include a combination of physiotherapy and psychotherapy.

Professor Edgar Jones, who led the research, spent three years examining case notes from the 1940s-1990s on the mental health of over 500 British veterans from the Second World War, all of whom received pensions for a psychological illness.

Professor Jones, said: “It may be that individuals who experience severe or prolonged trauma also suffer from bodily symptoms that inhibit their recovery process or serve to sustain post-traumatic illness.

“These findings may serve to design new interventions or improve existing ones for veterans.

“Improved services would be clinical interventions, possibly involving multi-disciplinary approaches, such as a combination of physiotherapy and psychotherapy to deal with both psychological and somatic symptoms, or occupational therapy and psychotherapy.”

The findings come on Armed Forces Day, which has added importance this year as it is the 75th anniversary of D-Day and 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

Professor Neil Greenberg, lead for military and veteran’s mental health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Armed forces personnel are at risk of experiencing mental health problems as a result of their military service.

“Unfortunately, conventional treatments for PTSD such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing appear to work less well for military personnel.

“This research suggests that healthcare professionals who provide care to veterans who present with inexplicable physical health symptoms should sensitively ask about a history of trauma.”

A recent review of service personnel and veterans with PTSD found symptoms subsided after undergoing cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, but 60% to 70% continued to meet the criteria for PTSD. 

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