One of the most significant disabilities incurred by U.S. service personnel returning from the battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether or not they suffered physical injuries, is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition that includes anxiety, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, exaggerated startle response, nightmares and flashbacks, outbursts of anger and social withdrawal. Not surprisingly, victims of PTSD demonstrate elevated levels of alcoholism, substance abuse, marital problems and suicide.
Speaking as one who has been to war and seen its horrors, I see PTSD as a natural reaction to the inhuman conditions of the battlefield. Not everyone has the basic psychological strength to endure such stress without at least some mental stress. But the medical establishment has struggled to cope with victims of PTSD. The basic approaches are counseling, cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, virtual reality therapy and medication. But some of these therapies involve many months of residence and are not available to everyone. Also, many veterans with PTSD do not avail themselves of the therapy for fear of being stigmatized. Since October 2001, 30-35 percent of the 1.64 million troops deployed meet criteria for PTSD or major depression, but only half have sought treatment of any kind.
But many victims of PTSD are today finding relief from an unexpected and to some a suspect source -- transcendental meditation (TM). It is not clear to me why the medical community would resist this trend, if only because traditional medical therapies are proving so inadequate. In any event, TM is a proven technique for enabling people to deal with mental and emotional stress that has survived extensive scientific review over the years.
I have first-hand knowledge of the power of TM stemming from my time at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, way back in 1971. I was in fact one of only two students at the War College to sign up for TM. At no point did I see it as a substitute for my Christian faith, but I wanted to learn from it and derive whatever benefit I might find in it during a turbulent year in my life. I gained a lot from the experience, and continue to practice TM to this day, more than 40 years later. TM is most assuredly NOT a religion; rather it is a technique for taking you down mentally to ground zero, clearing your mind of stress and frustration as you find peace within yourself and equanimity of spirit.
It does not surprise me that TM has proven to be quite effective in helping victims of PTSD. From 40-50 percent of veterans trying TM have seen reduced PTSD symptoms; greater resiliency; reduced cardiovascular disease; decreased substance abuse - including smoking, alcohol and drugs; and decreased medical expenditures.
More information about it is available at www.operationwarriorwellness.org.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications, published by The History Publishing Company.