Some Hope Amid the Calendar’s Grim Pages

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Troops suffering from PTSD find their symptoms easing when they train dogs for fellow PTSD-afflicted troops.

June is PTSD Awareness Month.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month.

September will be Suicide Awareness Month. More public-service announcements about “seeking help is a sign of strength.”

Despite the monthly exhortations, most service members do not seek help for PTSD or the related illness of depression. They fear that treatment will end their careers.

A plethora of efforts has not reduced the suicide rate in service members. So what is newsworthy or new?

One organization, Honor for All, is hosting an event June 22 here in Washington, D.C. General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, is scheduled to speak.

While I look forward to such events, I am cynical about whether speeches or awareness can reduce PTSD and suicide. What is exciting, for me, are the new treatments for PTSD.

We have written about Complementary and Alternative Medicine in a series in Psychiatric Annals, a leading purveyor of continuing medical education for psychiatrists.

For the last six months, we have discussed and debated acupuncture, stellate ganglion block, virtual reality, yoga, and other as-yet unproven treatments as possible therapies. They offer promising avenues for research, hope for the afflicted, and a promise from mental-health professionals that we will not quit until we can better help those with PTSD.

This month’s article is on the benefits of service members training service dogs for other service members, a program called Warrior Canine Connection. “Serving humankind for 30,000 years” is its motto.

Soldiers and Marines who will not go near a shrink are very quick to warm to a fluffy puppy or young retriever. Training dogs to aid others with PTSD seems to help diminish their own PTSD symptoms.

The mechanism of action appears to be through the neurotransmitter oxytocin, what some call the “love hormone.”

Ironic that it might also pull double-duty in helping those suffering from the mental wounds of war.