EDITOR’S NOTE: The FAC’s Bemis School of Art and AspenPointe have collaborated on the class Military Artistic Healing for Active Duty and Veterans and now have added the new class, Military Artistic Healing/Parent and Child. Clearly, the issue of PTSD is an important one to us and our community. In that spirit, we offer this article, written for us by a reporter for VA Home Loan Centers.
Having served at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Bull Run and Shiloh, General William Tecumseh Sherman was arguably more familiar with the horrors of war than any other American who has lived before or since his military service came to a close. In reflecting on his Civil War service, Sherman famously and with elegant simplicity stated “war is hell.” A sentiment echoed by countless individuals who have been subjected to military combat. Although the vast majority of Americans cannot and will not ever have the first hand experience to understand the physiological and psychological ramifications of battle, looking at the current rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan draws a vivid picture of just how distressing wartime is.
According to Face the Facts USA, one out of every five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with PTSD. That number amounts to roughly 300,000 military members. Nearly one American solider commits suicide per day, veterans who only make up nine percent of the entire population account for 20 percent of all suicides in the United States. The number of veterans with undiagnosed PTSD is potentially inordinately high. Walter Reed Army Institute researcher Gary Wynn projects the number of those suffering from PTSD to be closer to 60 percent than 20 percent.
The Washington Times survey of military spouses supported this claim, with polled spouses estimating the number of untreated PTSD sufferers also being near 60 percent.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after an individual undergoes intense trauma. The disorder brings about situational avoidance, severe anxiety, feelings described as being “frozen in time,” repeatedly reliving the experience and a sense of hopelessness. A correlation between the disorder and depression, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and suicide has been well documented.
Healthcare costs associated with treating veterans with PTSD have exceeded $2 billion. On average, the cost of treatment per veteran is $8,300 annually. According to the Defense Department, treatment only works for about half of those receiving, far short of the department’s goal of an 80 – 90 percent rate. Not to mention the estimated 40 percent of undiagnosed veterans who are not involved in any capacity of treatment. It is worth asking, how does the rate of PTSD influence veteran rates of unemployment and homelessness? Numerous issues are stifling the transition from active duty to civilian for many.
Art therapy may be the key to successfully overcoming PTSD. Studies have previously been conducted on the benefits of Art Therapy, however very little research has been done concerning its usage in treating American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Art therapy has been shown to help guide clarity in thought by taking an individual’s mind off of the event, aid in expressing feelings, promote communication and dialogue between patient and mental health professional, enhance social skills and relieve stress. The Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association highlights a study conducted at a children’s psych center in the Bronx which demonstrated a reduction of PTSD symptoms in teenagers through arts and crafts based activities. Furthermore, Rebekah Chilcote described the benefits of art therapy on children in the same journal, when discussing how victims of the 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami positively reacted to this form of care.
Recent research conducted by Cheryl Miller of Concordia University’s department of Creative Arts and Therapies allowed a window into the rewards of therapeutic art on combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian combat veterans between 28 and 56 suffering from depression, insomnia, anxiety and suicidal ideation were followed over a period of time in which they attended art therapy sessions twice a week. Using charcoal, markers, collage materials, paint and clay, the group reported an evoking of positive feelings, increased empathy, externalized emotions and an overall reduction of symptoms. Miller has gone on record saying “Art therapy is considered a mind-body intervention that can influence physiological and psychological symptoms. The experience of expressing oneself creatively can reawaken positive emotions and address symptoms of emotional numbing in individuals with PTSD.”
Last year, a VA Medical Center in Kansas City began offering art classes; veterans who took advantage of the classes similarly reported positive outcomes, with 20 exhibiting their art at the VA Center.
While the full scope of how many veterans are currently suffering from PTSD and how effective art therapy can be as a widespread cure for the disorder is unknown, enough information exists to dictate the VA aggressively pursue this as a more accessible treatment option. The status quo is not working, and all viable options need to be explored.