What Are the "Invisible Effects of War?"

The Lost Celt deals with what are sometimes called "the invisible effects of war" on veterans and their families. Returning home, or reintegrating, after being in, or observing a combat zone, can be difficult and can take time. Some people returning from a conflict may have visible injuries. For others the effects of war may not be visible, but they are still very real.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which Grandpa just calls “post-traumatic stress,” happens when someone has seen or experienced scary things that they cannot stop thinking about. Sometimes they may have flashbacks, as if they were right back in that scary moment. They may have bad dreams and find it hard to sleep; they may be constantly on the look out for danger, even when it is safe; they may avoid situations that remind them of the scary event; and they may startle or react strongly to loud noises or sudden movements, sometimes with anger or frustration.

Some doctors also talk about people having suffered from a moral injury, or inner conflict, which is a subset of PTSD. This occurs when someone has had to do, or see, something that may be unavoidable, particularly in war, but that goes against that person’s beliefs. It may be something that in wartime is considered necessary, but is not something you would do at any other time. It can feel like a bruise on your soul that is hard to live with, making it difficult to return to normal life. 

Mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by hitting your head or being near an explosion. For a while afterwards this can give you headaches; make you feel tired, depressed, or worried; make you forgetful; or make you very emotional—happy one moment and irritable the next. 

In The Lost Celt I explore the impact of some of these "invisible effects of war," on veterans and their families throughout the generations. I also suggest that these issues were recognized in some way and addressed in stories by very early civilizations, like the Celts.

Marines listening to Gen. Michael Hagee in Al Asad, Iraq, 2006.  ( See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Marines listening to Gen. Michael Hagee in Al Asad, Iraq, 2006. (See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

It is extremely important to know that most men and women who return from war will not suffer from these “invisible effects of war" that are recognized by doctors as post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury. They will probably all have very vivid memories of certain moments, however. For most people, the memories of war are indelible, but over time they become part of that person's rich and unique understanding of the nature of life and human experience.

But many people who have served in wars, and their families, are dealing with one or both of these conditions. Because the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were so long, and drew upon so many National Guard and Reservist troops, who never expected to be away so long and so often, it is thought as many as 18% of people who served may be suffering from PTSD according to VA figures. 

Doctors are constantly discovering new ways of understanding and treating these invisible injuries. There are excellent resources on the Internet:

Click here for more links on PTSD and families.

The information above was taken from www.ptsd.va.gov.