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The emotional effects of deployment

F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- As we see more and more members from Warren deploying in support of the Global War on Terrorism, it is becoming evident that people need to understand the impact being in a war can have on one's mental health.

Let me begin by stating it is normal to be affected by what you experience, without necessarily becoming psychologically damaged. Active-duty members and their families need to learn the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder and having traumatic stress-related traits, which is a natural reaction to experiencing a distressful event.

One way to tell the difference between stress-related traits and PTSD is by looking at the outcome: How much residual effect an upsetting event is having on your life, relationships and overall functioning? PTSD can be distinguished from stress traits by assessing several questions:

How quickly do you become upset?

How frequently do you become upset?

How intense are you when you become upset?

How long does it last when you are upset?

How long does it take to calm down?

Do you become fixated with what is making you upset?

Do you have problems sleeping because of what makes you upset?

If we can communicate our distress to people who care about us and can respond adequately, and if we return to a state of equilibrium following a stressful event, we are in the realm of stress. If we become frozen in a state of active emotional intensity, we are experiencing post traumatic stress -- even though sometimes we may not be consciously aware of the level of distress we are experiencing.

One of the primary keys to dealing with a stressful event is to communicate our distress. When Marines train for deployment, they emphasize the fact that each Marine is going to be affected and they will need to talk to someone while they are deployed and when they return. Marines are very aware that fighting in a war is going to affect them.

The staff at the Warren Mental Health Clinic emphasize the key to preventing long-term psychological impairment is to ACT: Accept the fact that stressful events do impact emotional functioning; Communicate your distress to people who care or are willing to listen; and Treat the distress sooner then later to assure good mental health.

Members returning from deployment need to understand that being exposed to a prolonged stressful experience can have a negative long-term impact if not processed properly. Leaders, supervisors and family members should also encourage returning personnel to seek the professional expertise that is available at the Warren Mental Health Clinic. Accessing help will have a significant reduction on the number of returning members who have their lives, relationships and career impacted by what they experienced while they were deployed.

If you are going to be deployed, are currently deployed or have been deployed, you are going to have a reaction to what you experienced. It may not be immediately recognized and may take as long as three months before you exhibit stress-related traits. Attending the pre-deployment briefings offered by the Airman and Family Readiness Center will educate deploying personnel and dependents on what to expect, how to cope, and where to find support on all issues related to deployment.

Please talk to people who care and if you are having any of the distress traits listed above, seek the professional help offered by the Warren Mental Health Clinic to help you return to a normal state of functioning and mission readiness.