Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?

Over the past nine years, more than 2 million American soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many as several hundred thousand may now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, experts say. They struggle with anxiety, anger, depression, flashbacks and nightmares. The ailment can take years to emerge, and many more cases are likely to appear.

PTSD is usually treated with drugs, behavioral therapy and other approaches. But for many, these methods don’t work. Now, researchers are looking at a new method that might limit future cases of PTSD and ease symptoms for those who have it: meditation.

With its emphasis on cultivating tranquillity, meditation might seem like an odd fit for the military. But the researchers say that a particular type, known as mindfulness, may prove to be an important therapeutic tool to help reduce stress and increase focus.

Practitioners of mindfulness meditation focus on a single thing happening in the moment, such as breathing, for a set period of time, generally at least 15 or 20 minutes. Studies have found that for regular practitioners, mindfulness has physical and emotional benefits.

“It’s clear that mindfulness can lower stress in many contexts,” says Elizabeth Stanley, an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University who has been involved in the studies and began practicing meditation to deal with her PTSD. “We think it can work for soldiers dealing with the extreme stress of combat.”

Research on mindful meditation and PTSD

military Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?

Mindful meditation may be a therapeutic tool for military suffering from PTSD. (Shutterstock)

Stanley says she believes meditation should be as much a part of basic training as learning to fire a weapon or march in formation.

The research by Stanley and her colleagues has attracted the attention of some military leaders, including the commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan.

A former Army military intelligence officer, Stanley is not a scientist, but her research collaborators are psychologists and neuroscientists. In 2010, they published the results of a pilot study that found that mindfulness protected soldiers from anxiety and other stress-related negative emotions. They have completed two other studies whose findings have not been published.

The pilot study focused on 60 Marine reservists who were going through two months of intense training before being deployed to Iraq. Some received regular instruction in mindfulness meditation and were asked to meditate for 15 minutes a day; the other group got no meditation training. The researchers found that after two months, the meditation group reported significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety.

The study found that mindfulness training had another benefit: It made the soldiers smarter. Specifically, it improved their capacity to retain new information, which is known as expanding their working memory. Participants were asked to remember letters from the alphabet while doing simple arithmetic. Those who had received the mindfulness training and meditated every day did significantly better at this task than those who didn’t receive such training, and those who meditated more did better than those who meditated less.

Marine medic Del Cochran was among those in the meditation group. Like many participants in the study, he was initially skeptical: “No one wanted to do it. We thought it was a waste of time.”

But Cochran was suffering from problems related to combat stress: After returning home from an eight-month tour in Iraq in 2004, he’d struggled. His marriage was in trouble, he was drinking a lot and he was constantly angry. So he was willing to try anything. As the meditation training progressed, Cochran said he found that he was calmer and less angry.

When his unit was deployed to Iraq in 2008, the study was put on hold. But Cochran, now 50, continued to meditate in Iraq, putting aside 15 minutes a day to practice. He says that many others in his unit did the same and that some who hadn’t had the training also took up meditating when they saw how it seemed to help with stress.

After the soldiers returned from Iraq, they were retested. University of Miami neuroscientist Amish Jha, one of Stanley’s collaborators, says that those who continued practicing meditation in Iraq showed improved working memory in follow-up tests. The researchers were surprised, Jha says, because stressful experiences tend to degrade working memory.

Cochran says he believes meditation helped him stay much calmer during his second tour in Iraq. “The first tour, I was freaked out all the time,” he says. “There was so much static. With meditation, you’re much more in tune — what is a target, what is not a target. You are much more focused on what you are doing.”

He says this increased sense of control continued when he returned home. Now a battalion medical chief for a Marine reserve unit in Cape Coral, Fla., he meditates 15 minutes a day, usually during lunch. “For me, meditation was a lifesaver,” he says.

via Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?.

AFP: War veterans say meditation could help

War veterans say meditation could help

By Sebastian Smith (AFP) – 5 hours ago

NEW YORK — Meditation might sound an unlikely activity for men trained in killing people and blowing things up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But US war veterans say meditation could help heal the post-war mental disturbances that afflict a growing number of American soldiers, including possibly the ex-Marine who gunned down the country’s most famous sniper over the weekend.

Luke Jensen, a former undercover police officer who fell apart mentally on arrival in Afghanistan, said that after trying to commit suicide in front of his family, he agreed to try transcendental meditation — and was saved.

“There’s a lot of coping methods out there that are offered to our veterans. This needs to be one of them,” the heftily built man said in a shaking voice at a meeting of the David Lynch Foundation, which promotes meditation for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jensen said he has since taken a job in the government’s Department of Veterans Affairs, helping other stressed out vets. Just two weeks ago, one of those he worked with committed suicide.

Transcendental meditation “needs to be implemented. It needs to be an option,” Jensen told the panel in New York.

After years of being a little-talked about subject, PTSD is increasingly acknowledged as a mental health epidemic in the United States and one of the less easily quantifiable costs of America’s wars on the other side of the world.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD occurs in between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and in 31 percent of Vietnam war veterans.

Although combat is commonly assumed to be the main cause of PTSD, simply witnessing the effects of bombings, for example, or the stress of being in a hostile country, are also blamed.

Another major source of PTSD, though less often discussed, is what the government calls military sexual trauma. Veterans Affairs figures show that 23 percent of women report sexual assault in the ranks, while more than half have experienced sexual harassment.

The most frightening result associated with PTSD is the rising number of suicides, which now run at 22 a day among military veterans, according to a government study released last week.

And the problem is no less alarming among active duty soldiers, with a record 349 killing themselves in 2012 — more than were killed by the Taliban or other enemy in the field.

In the latest incident to highlight the violence engulfing former soldiers, an ex-Marine in Texas was accused Saturday of shooting dead another veteran who had devoted himself to helping comrades adjust to peaceful life.

Adding to the shock value, the victim, Chris Kyle, was an author of a best-selling book about his former exploits as a sniper with 150 confirmed kills.

In the effort to address the problem of PTSD, meditation is an outlier.

However, early studies show remarkable success, and demand is growing, advocates at filmmaker Lynch’s foundation said.

Transcendental meditation involves entering “a state of rest in many cases deeper than sleep,” said Bob Roth, executive director of the David Lynch Foundation. “This allows deeply rooted stresses to be dissolved.”

Retired rear admiral Richard Schneider, president of the private military institute Norwich University, said tests showed that cadets using the techniques increased focus in class and were better “emotionally prepared.”

The meditation instructor, a chisel-faced air force veteran called David Zobeck, said a stigma long attached to meditation was evaporating among students, who are preparing for careers as officers.

“They’re not getting the weird stares anymore,” he said.

Jerry Yellin, a fighter pilot in World War II who spoke of losing comrades and making dangerous missions in the bloody Pacific theater, said he began suffering nightmares, then behavioral problems on return home at a time when PTSD was rarely discussed.

“The hard stuff began in my life, because I didn’t sleep,” he said. “I had an addiction that ruled my life.”

Meditating, he said, “got my life back 100 percent.”

via AFP: War veterans say meditation could help.