Between 2000 and 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported a 327% increase in anxiety disorders among military members. A recent study suggests that this may be due to the discovery of a so-called “worry gene.” Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of California in San Diego analyzed the genes of 200,000 U.S. veterans and identified six genetic variants linked to anxiety — a discovery that may help explain why anxiety and depression often go hand in hand.
The study authors hailed their finding as “the richest set of results for the genetic basis of anxiety to date.” But leading psychologists say that while genes may load the gun, it’s most often environment that pulls the trigger on mental health disorders.
According to Mental Health First Aid, 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Over 30% of active duty and military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health problem requiring treatment, but only half of these returning veterans receive the care they need.
“We should spend as much money on helping these veterans re-enter their civilian lives as we do in training them for the military,” Dr. Terry Lyles, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert on dealing with trauma and stress, tells Newsmax. “The study points the finger at genetics on why our military personnel have mental health issues. However, we basically all have the same genetic patterns but when threatened with violence, danger, and combat stress, we release levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, that drains our bodies of the natural resources to deal with that constant bombardment.
“Cortisol literally eats serotonin, the hormone that helps regulate mood and social behavior. So, when these veterans are subjected to constant threats, improper nutrition, lack of sleep, and sunlight — it’s no wonder they become rewired to exhibit anxiety and depression.”
Lyles, known as America’s “Stress Coach,” uses highly specialized techniques to help veterans and other individuals such as the rescue workers at Ground Zero and those in the tsunami-torn area in Asia to help channel mental negativity and chaos into more productive and positive pathways.
Dr. Lois Mueller, a clinical psychologist from Tampa who worked at the U.S, Department of Veterans Affairs, Outpatient Clinic for 10 years, tells Newsmax, that people with a genetic predisposition toward anxiety will have a 10-fold increased risk of developing a mental disorder when being placed in a combat situation where people around you are wounded or dying.
“Whatever they came with genetically was certainly affected by their environment,” she says. “The proof of impact of combat would be to compare vets before being in the military and five years after combat. Don’t forget, a lot more were traumatized not only by combat itself but also by associated military duties such as picking up and bagging bodies or delivering the folded flags to mothers here in the States.
“My experience with vets with PSTD is very often people who were calm and worry-free prior to combat ended up anxious and fearful after leaving the military. Early treatment can make a difference but length of exposure to combat can make it very difficult to eliminate the problem. We are still learning about treatment techniques.”
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