Coping is Not Created Equal: A Woman’s Military Experience

Human beings have always been resilient creatures. Whether we realize it or not, we possess the ability to adapt to various situations and survive them, often without even noticing how we managed it. Unfortunately, that does not always mean that the ways we adapt and what our coping mechanisms are can be healthy or particularly beneficial to us, whether in a short-term situation or in the long run. Avoidant coping mechanisms (or ones that involve the person basically withdrawing into themselves) can be especially harmful for various reasons, so figuring out why some may choose them is important.

How to cope with personal trauma was the theme of “Finding Resilience and Making Change in the Military,” a recent Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan.

The program paired Anuradha Bhagwati, an Ivy League educated Marine Corps veteran, with Jennifer Chan, Ph.D., a pharmacologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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Bhagwati (left) and Chan (right). Photo: Rubin Museum

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From the Archives: US Army’s Suicide Risk and Resilience Project

In 2011, we reported on a longitudinal study starting up that aimed to find reliable biomarkers for compromised mental health among army personnel, as the Framingham Heart Study did for heart health. The US Army and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), teamed up to pursue the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (STARRS).

Historically, the suicide rate among Army personnel has been lower than that of the general population, but starting in 2004, the suicide rate among soldiers began rising, reaching their highest yearly number in 2012.

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Credit: Shutterstock

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The Science and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury

Planning on being in the D.C.-area on October 23? If so,
please join us at the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) auditorium for the free public event, “The Science and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury.” Part of the Neuroscience and Society Series co-sponsored by AAAS and
the Dana Foundation, the discussion will address current traumatic brain injury
(TBI) research, particularly in the context of sports and the military.

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Dogs in Distress

They search for bombs. They engage in combat with terrorists. They ride in military vehicles and walk war-ravaged streets, witnesses to death and destruction. They risk their lives serving in the military.

So why can’t dogs develop post-traumatic stress disorder, too?

According to a recent article in The New York Times, more than 5 percent of the 650 or so dogs deployed by the U.S. military may have canine PTSD. The idea of such a thing is about 18 months old; it may have been noticed now because so many dogs are being used at once in the military.

These heroic dogs received a lot of media coverage after the mission that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death, when it was reported that a dog entered the compound along with the Navy SEALs. It was likely a German shepherd, the most common breed used by the military, but Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers also make great service dogs.

While physically attacking the enemy is one role of a military dog, its specialty is sniffing out bombs. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) typically don’t contain metal, making dogs’ superior sense of smell extremely valuable.

Exposure to explosions has its consequences, though. As is the case with humans, different dogs display different symptoms of stress. Some become less social and are fearful of entering unfamiliar buildings.

“If you want to put doggy thoughts into their heads, the dog is thinking: When I see this kind of individual, things go boom, and I’m distressed,” Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at a military working dog hospital, told the Times.

There are instances of dogs having a similar response after the 9/11 attacks. Dogs were used to find bodies—some alive, most dead—in the rubble following the collapse of the Twin Towers. When some of the dogs started showing signs of depression over the lack of results, their handlers would stage mock rescues to keep the dogs motivated.

While some veterinarians hesitate to assign the PTSD label to animals, fearing it undermines human military personnel who have the disorder, the idea of canine PTSD is gaining steam among experts, even for household pets that witness traumatic events.

–Andrew Kahn

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