U.S. veterans suffering from pain, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by their experience in combat are now taking advantage of alternative forms of therapy.
Increased Risk For PTSD Among US Soldiers
Soldiers have increased risk for PTSD because of the violent and dangerous nature of their work. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq war veterans suffer from PTSD symptoms per year.
The condition may not have its physical marks but it is characterized by extreme sensitivity to sounds, nightmares, feelings of fear, disorientation, and difficulty concentrating.
Treating Soldiers Suffering From PTSD
A 2015 study has revealed that if left untreated, PTSD in veterans can re-emerge years later. One in 10 veterans of the Vietnam war were found to be suffering from PTSD decades after returning from conflict, which shows that PTSD could be a lifelong burden and underscores the need for treatment among soldiers who worked in war zones.
Psychotherapy is commonly employed to help soldiers manage their mental health problems but they also receive complementary and alternative medicine therapies such as meditation yoga and acupuncture.
A 2016 study has shown that mindfulness, a mind-body technique that focuses on in-the-moment attention and awareness, can change the brains of veterans and help them find an off switch for their negative memories.
Despite limited scientific studies, many veterans turn to cannabis so they can better manage their PTSD symptoms. Experts, however, are concerned this can raise a veteran's risk for marijuana dependence. There continues a hunt for better and more effective therapies for PTSD sufferers.
Diving With Sharks As A Non-Conventional Therapy To Manage PTSD
Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are now trying a new form of non-conventional therapy to help manage PTSD: diving with sharks. JBLM's Warrior Transition Battalion chief physical therapist Louis McGranaghan explained that being underwater with sharks is primarily beneficial for the soldier's emotional health.
"[It's] an emotionally driven experience, so one aspect is for each soldier to manage those emotions in an appropriate way," McGranaghan said, explaining how the encounter with sharks becomes beneficial to soldiers suffering from PTSD.
The experience is also associated with anxiety control and stress management. Using a scuba regulator to breathe underwater, soldiers need to use deep breathing, which is known to help reduce unhealthy anxiety and stress.
Deep breathing also benefits the soldiers' physical health. Studies have shown that deep abdominal breathing can help slow the heartbeat as well as improve blood pressure levels.
Operation Shark Dive For Soldiers Suffering From PTSD
The program, called Operation Shark Dive, accommodates eight soldiers per month and is being financed through grants. The soldiers stay for about 50 minutes in an open cage underwater with about 16 sharks at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Washington state.
While studies have not backed up the exact health benefits of diving with sharks, experts said that this relatively dangerous alternative therapy for soldiers may help in their long-term healing process.