A new study shows that traditional mindfulness practices can help ease the burden of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
PTSD is a serious concern for soldiers returning from war. 200,000 Vietnam War veterans are believed to be afflicted with the mental disorder. Estimates suggest that around 13 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from PTSD.
Soldiers who spend months on edge, fearful for their lives or the lives of their comrades, often have difficulty returning to every day life.
The memories of killing someone or seeing someone killed do not simply fade with time. “Compared to civilian traumas such as car accidents and natural disasters, military deployment involves repeated and extended trauma exposure,” said researcher Maria M. Steenkamp, an assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone. “It also involves not just life-threat, but exposure to traumatic losses and morally compromising experiences that create shame and guilt.”
Left untreated, such emotional buildup can lead to depression and suicidal tendencies, sometimes even more violent forms of expression such as domestic abuse or murder.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday compares conventional psychological treatments with a mindfulness-based therapy. The results showed that, over a two month period, the conventional treatments helped 28 percent of veterans see a reduction in their PTSD symptoms. Mindfulness helped 49 percent.
“Overall, the evidence from this study suggests mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy may be a promising treatment for PTSD,” said lead study author Melissa Polusny, of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
The mindfulness therapy included various breathing exercises, stretching and relaxation trainings. The researchers compared the practices to a yoga meditation class.
Oftentimes, veterans are reluctant to come forward with the mental agony. Researchers hope that if soldiers were taught mindfulness techniques, they could draw on the lessons in times of stress.
At the moment, the research suggests mindfulness should be used to compliment conventional therapy.
“If a person has a meaningful response, they have a meaningful improvement in their quality of life,” said Schnurr. “As scientists we will always try to enhance the effectiveness of these treatments for more people…My takeaway message [from the study] is one of optimism and also encouragement for people to seek treatment.”