The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively.
But can stress from PTSD be contagious? That is, do afflicted veterans spread that stress to the rest of their family, friends, and co-workers?

Many articles, including one in the Star Tribune called “Can Stress be as Contagious as Germs?”, says yes.
The article, written by Jeff Strickler, begins with Strickler’s encounter with a stressed-out customer ahead of him in line. Strickler picked up on her body language that signaled that she was experiencing some sort of emotional distress, and as a result, he noticed that he too was beginning to feel anxious “[when] there was no reason for [him] to be triggered that way”.

While Strickler explains that “this response stems from our ancestors,” he fails to go into further detail about how “second-hand stress” came to be. But looking at certain situations analytically can help determine some of the causes of stress’ contagious factors.
In a marriage, a partner who is stressed can cause the other partner to be stressed because that other partner worries for the well-being of the first partner. Perhaps the other partner fears that the first partner will get sick, be too preoccupied with worry or stress to pay attention to them, even lose sleep because of their stressful predicament. Suddenly, the other partner becomes stressed and worried over all of the consequences that can occur for the first partner being stressed.
So how can we lower stress’ contagious nature for the sake of a family, friendship, or marriage? Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can certainly be beneficial with lowering everyone’s stress levels. Additionally, talk-therapy and even psychiatric medication can help ease emotional tension.

However, veterans suffering from such high levels of stress should be wary of seeking such treatment options from the VA, since reports released by CBS News in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. A medical practitioner associated with the VA anonymously admitted to CBS News in a TV interview that “it is easier to write a prescription for narcotics and to just move along and get to the next patient” so that more veterans would be “treated”. Therefore, ailing veterans might want to consider consulting non-associated medical facilities to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.