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Video Games and PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is among only a few mental disorders that are triggered by a disturbing outside event…[i] such as sexual assault, serious injury or the threat of death.[i] The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms…continue for more than a month after the traumatic event. [ii]

How many people does PTSD effect?

1 out of 10 Americans [who experience trauma] the traumatic event causes a cascade of psychological and biological changes… [i] Women are more likely to experience more high impact trauma, and are also more likely to develop PTSD than men. Children are less likely to experience PTSD after trauma than adults, especially if they are under 10 years of age. [ii]

What causes PTSD?

Many Americans experience individual traumatic events ranging from car and airplane accidents to sexual assault and domestic violence. Other experiences, including those associated with natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes, affect multiple people simultaneously. Dramatic and tragic events, like the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and wars occur, and with media exposure such as we have today, even people not directly involved might be affected. [i] Alcohol abuse and drug abuse commonly co-occur with PTSD. [ii]

PTSD Facts

  • In the United States, 60% of men and 50% of women experience a traumatic event during their lifetimes. Of those, 8% of men and 20% of women may develop PTSD. A higher proportion of people who are raped develop PTSD than those who suffer any other traumatic event. Because women are much more likely to be raped than men (9% versus less than 1%), this helps explain the higher prevalence of PTSD in women than men. [i]
  • Some 88% of men and 79% of women with PTSD also have another psychiatric disorder. Nearly half suffer from major depression, 16% from other types of anxiety disorders besides PTSD, and 28% from social phobia. They also are more likely to have risky health behaviors such as alcohol abuse, which affects 52% of men with PTSD and 28% of women, while drug abuse is seen in 35% of men and 27% of women with PTSD. [i]
  • More than half of all Vietnam veterans, about 1.7 million, have experienced symptoms of PTSD. Although 60% of war veterans with PTSD have had serious medical problems, only 6% of them have a problem due to injury in combat. [i]
  • African Americans, when they are exposed to trauma, are more likely to develop PTSD than whites. [i]
  • People who are exposed to the most intense trauma are the most likely to develop PTSD. The higher the degree of exposure to trauma, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. So, if something happens to you more than once or if something occurs to you over a very long period of time, the likelihood of developing PTSD is increased. [i]
  • Sometimes, people who have heart attacks, cancer or other serious medical problems that pose a sudden threat to one’s physical integrity and produce feelings of horror and helplessness may develop PTSD.[i]
  • Refugees (people who have been through war conditions in their native country or fled from conflict) may develop PTSD and often go years without treatment. [i]
  • New mothers may develop PTSD after an unusually difficult delivery during childbirth. Also, patients who regain partial consciousness during surgery under general anesthesia may be at risk for developing PTSD. [i]

Symptoms of PTSD

Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event(s), sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger, and irritability.[iv] Those with PTSD may also be experiencing these feeling as well:

  • Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened [iv]
  • Having nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event that make you feel like it’s happening all over again [iv]
  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others [iv]
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about [iv]
  • Becoming depressed [iv]
  • Thinking that you are always in danger [iv]
  • Feeling anxious, jittery, or irritated [iv]
  • Experiencing a sense of panic that something bad is about to happen [iv]
  • Having difficulty sleeping [iv]
  • Having trouble keeping your mind on one thing [iv]
  • Having a hard time relating to and getting along with your spouse, family, or friends [iv]

Treatment of PTSD 

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seeks to change the way a trauma victim feels and acts by changing the patterns of thinking or behavior, or both, responsible for negative emotions. CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for PTSD and is currently considered the standard of care for PTSD by the United States Department of Defense. In CBT, individuals learn to identify thoughts that make them feel afraid or upset and replace them with less distressing thoughts. The goal is to understand how certain thoughts about events cause PTSD-related stress. [ii]

2. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed and studied by Francine Shapiro. She had noticed that when she was thinking about disturbing memories herself, her eyes were moving rapidly. When she brought her eye movements under control while thinking, the thoughts were less distressing. [ii]

 Interpersonal psychotherapy

Other approaches, particularly involving social supports, may also be important. An open trial of interpersonal psychotherapy reported high rates of remission from PTSD symptoms without using exposure.A current, NIMH-funded trial in New York City is now (and into 2013) comparing interpersonal psychotherapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and relaxation therapy. [ii]

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Video Games as a Treatment for Veterans of War

I’ve read blog posts about how some video games can cause PTSD, which I have found no medical research to prove this claim and of course people are hammering those bloggers with comments about how serious PTSD really is. I have personal experience with Video Games triggering PTSD. My father in law, who was in Vietnam can’t be in the same room when a war based game, like “Call of Duty”, is being played.  However roaming through the internet, I am finding some very interesting research where researchers are using Video Games to help treat PTSD.

“The Office of Naval Research and University of Southern California’s futuristic Institute for Creative Technologies combined resources to create the game to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Therapists guide veterans into their most difficult battlefield experience in order to gradually desensitize them.

“Studies are ongoing, but of the initial 20 patients treated with Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan, 16 no longer meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD at post-treatment.

“Imitating aspects of the popular game Full Spectrum Warrior, psychologist ‘Skip’ Rizzo and his colleagues conceptualized the program that allows veterans to re-live traumatic experiences from their time in theater. Therapists use a touch-screen to add helicopter sounds, change the whether or even waft in the smell of body odor.

“But the two cues that elicit the most intense physiological reactions? Rizzo says heart rates spike at the repeating gunfire of an AK-47 as well as at that most incongruous of battlefield noises: a baby’s cry.

“The idea is to reintroduce the trauma-inducing events slowly, until the patient no longer reacts strongly to the stimuli.”[iii]

The obvious conclusion seems that by bringing up and reliving painful traumatic experiences those with PTSD are able to deal with them and process all the events that take place.  This doesn’t come as a surprise to some, this was the natural progression of video game technology as private companies and the military have used video games in training for at least a decade, similar technology being used for tasks such as flight simulators and mock surgery.  However, keep in mind that using technology to cure PTSD is still experimental.

What can all this mean?  That with the help of modern technology, a psychologist or doctor, those with PTSD may find a cure rather than treatment of symptoms with medication.





If you are suffering with PTSD or know someone who is, it is never too late to seek help.   Here are a few links to some pages that may provide you with help:  There are so many links and resources on this page even tips on self-help.  They have a great quiz to see if you may have PTSD. There are some great self-help tips. Articles and more information about PTSD. Great site for Vets and Families.

Don’t forget that if you are a Veteran you can get help apply for VA Benefits in your state by finding a specialist:

Written by Valerie Michel Buck


Ghosts of the Battlefield

“In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield” (General Douglas MacArthur). A veteran never forgets the battlefield. Those images haunt them like ghosts, forever present in the back of their minds.

Iraq war veteran Bryan said, “I was having constant flashbacks. The whole time I was awake I was miserable. I couldn’t feel any excitement about life. I would just stay in my room all day and drink and drink and drink, and I didn’t know why.” Many of us today recognize the physical sacrifices our veterans have made but don’t always see the emotional.

Back at home, we protest, cry, write letters, and rejoice in reaction to war and the end of it. We feel safe and guarded, and we praise our veterans for the war that has been won and the victory we’ve all gained from their sacrifice. The war then ends in our history books, but it never ends for our veterans.

It’s true that the media today has allowed us to see for ourselves war in its most brutal form, but no amount of technology will allow us at home to live war. Bryan was extremely happy all growing up. He said, “Everybody knew me as just the happiest dude, but [in war] there was a time when there was just no laughing.” Bryan said that to cope with all the death and sadness around him he had to go emotionally numb.

Bryan was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), a disorder that many veterans acquire when they return home. After running through the jungles of Vietnam for a year or more, dodging bombs and bullets, ‘Welcome Home’ should have been the best words a Vietnam soldier could’ve heard. However, being halfway around the world did nothing to fade their memories.

Gene Duwe, after interviewing seventeen Vietnam war veterans, said, “Any time a helicopter flutters overhead, the smell of diesel fuel wafts in the air or the notes of Taps are played, veterans flashback to the jungles of Vietnam.” We can never know the thoughts and memories of our beloved veterans, but we can honor them, support them, and help them find hope.

Veterans diagnosed with PTSD may avoid people and isolate themselves while constantly reliving the horrors of the war in their minds. They’ll have nightmares, flashbacks, and possibly hallucinations. Though it may not show physically, they’ve been hurt and wounded from the war. Emotional wounds inflict more of our veterans than physical wounds. Physical wounds we can treat whereas the emotional pains are much harder to cure.

There are many organizations that are there to help our veterans – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Make the Connection is one such program that helps veterans to know that they are not alone in what they are feeling and that there is help. Rebecca, Bryan’s spouse, said, “There is so much more help and understanding than you even realize.”

Even greater an influence than these wonderful organizations, are the veterans’ close family and friends. Almost everyone knows someone who has served during a time of war – a father, grandfather, brother, sister, friend. We may not understand what they’re going through, but because we are not as emotionally damaged as them, we have the opportunity to reach out and help them find hope.

Bryan said, “I forgot that there was good in the world, and every time I saw Rebecca, it brought it back.” There is goodness, there is happiness, there is hope here at home for all of our veterans. It is our responsibility as part of their lives to help them see this.

Our veterans have given their time and their service, and they will continue to give. More than honor and support, we must love them. We are their link back to life before war, and we are their vision forward to how good life can be after. They will never forget their moments on the battlefield so let us always remember our veterans.

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