Sitting at home this evening, I was surrounded by the intermittent sounds of people celebrating Independence Day by lighting off fireworks. As a mental health professional specializing in trauma therapy, I wanted to address this with your readers, particularly during a time of year that is meant to honor our veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has been called an invisible epidemic among service members, particularly veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Studies estimate that 11-20 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD, which may include symptoms such as vivid flashbacks of a traumatic event, shaking, nausea and feelings of detachment or panic.
For many people who experience PTSD after combat, these symptoms can by triggered by the unexpected noise and bright flashes that occur with private fireworks displays. While PTSD is as real an injury of war as any outward physical wound, many of our veterans feel embarrassed or distressed by these symptoms, and experience significant anxiety around the Fourth because they cannot predict when a loud noise will occur.
I would ask your readers to consider, before having a private fireworks display, if this might have an effect on neighbors, friends and family members who may be veterans with PTSD. If possible, consider asking the person or one of their family members before lighting off fireworks, or (depending on local ordinance) finding a more secluded location for the festivities. If celebrating with veterans, let them determine how they feel about organized fireworks displays, and respect their decision to attend, and abstain or watch from farther away to reduce the amount of noise.
Our veterans have made immeasurable sacrifices for their country, and, especially around the Fourth, we can all help ensure that they feel honored and appreciated, not stigmatized.
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