Psycho-Social Effects of Sports and Physical Fitness on the Well Being of Veterans

 

Military personnel face a unique set of daily challenges and are often placed in harm’s way in life or death situations. These highly charged and dangerous settings can often have devastating effects on the individual’s mental and emotional state, which can lead to depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem and even suicide ideation. These symptoms are typically referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Recent Veterans Affairs data indicate that veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than their civilian counterparts. Current medical interventions used to treat PTSD include moderate to heavy doses of anti-anxiolytics and group or individual counseling. While these interventions may be effective for some, the VA system is overburdened to the point that a vast number of veterans remain untreated.

So what are the alternatives? Fortunately there are many and they are found in the areas of recreation, fitness and adaptive sports. Activities that are utilized as therapeutic interventions include canoe and kayaking, fresh and salt water fishing, competitive athletics and mountaineering to name just a few. Numerous non-profit organizations have been created over the last decade to specifically address the unique issues veterans face when returning from deployment or re-entering society after they have completed their service. These organizations vary in size from local groups to nationally recognized associations, but they all share one common theme; to serve veterans and their families in hopes of reducing the PTSD stresses related to their service and reintegration into society.

While most veterans leave active or reserve duty physically sound, many others will have endured some physical trauma that renders them disabled. Injuries such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), amputation, as well as other musculoskeletal conditions leave many veterans feeling “less” than they were before. Hope is not lost on these veterans however, as many organizations have been specifically established as adaptive sports entities to assist with the special needs these warriors. Specifically, on how to enable them to engage in every activity they enjoyed prior to their injuries.

Sports, physical activity and recreation are being used as viable, and often times better, alternative interventions to help treat depression, anxiety and suicide in the veteran population. These activities allow the individual to engage with their environment and other veterans to promote a healing process from within. This is something that no drug or counseling can do as well.

Dr. Vincent K. Ramsey is Chair of Sports Exercise Science at the United States Sports Academy. He can be reached at vramsey@ussa.edu.

 

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