Evidence-based solution for post-traumatic stress dilemma

Over half a million U.S. troops suffer from stress-induced problems like Post-traumatic Stress (PTS). Less than 20 percent of them receive proper care due to ineffective treatments, insufficient government resources, or fear of stigma. Half get no care at all. Left untreated, PTS cripples functioning and puts military personnel and veterans at greater risk for self-destructive and violent behavior: severe depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety, emotional numbness, unemployment, family problems and suicide. More than 6,500 Veterans commit suicide every year.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has invested millions of dollars in programs to prevent stress-related psychological disorders such as PTS.

However, the Institute of Medicine panel of the National Academies concluded there is little evidence that they are effective. Their new report, "Preventing Psychological Disorders in Service Members and Their Families, an Assessment of Programs" faults these programs for not being consistently evidence-based or adequately evaluated.

In fact, experts acknowledge that PTS has generally been highly resistant to the many conventional approaches traditionally used to treat psychological disturbance. There is, however, an alternative approach highly effective in treating PTS. We suggest that more attention be given to the large body of evidence supporting this alternative approach, the Transcendental Meditation Program.

Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, is an evidenced-based solution, with a substantial amount of published, peer-reviewed research that has accumulated since 1970. In both case studies and clinical trials, TM has vastly outperformed other modalities by dramatically reducing stress, anxiety, depression and a host of PTS symptoms.

Numerous studies show that TM uniquely calms the stress of wired-up, burnt-out, anxious, and depressed people. In particular, a 2013 meta-analysis of 10 controlled studies found that TM, significantly reduced anxiety, and the higher the anxiety level, the greater the reduction.

Over 350 research studies on TM have been published in 160 peer-reviewed academic and medical journals. The peer-reviewed process ensured that this evidence-based research met the highest standards of scientific methodology. No other stress-reduction program has comparable research support. American Heart Association, in a Summary paper to physicians, recommended TM as being a safe and uniquely effective meditation program to lower high blood pressure to reverse and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

This, based on a long-term study they published showing a 48 percent reduction in strokes, heart attacks and early death.

Here are some evidence-based examples relating to PTS:

• The February 2014 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress documents significant reductions in PTS symptoms within ten days among African war refugees from the Congo who were taught TM. In a month, eleven subjects were virtually free of symptoms.

• An April 2013 study in the same journal showed that PTS symptoms among African refugees went from “severe” to “non-symptomatic levels” after 30 days of TM and remained low at 135 days.

• In 2011, the journal Military Medicine published a study showing the effectiveness of TM in reducing PTS in veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Participants had a 50 percent reduction of symptoms after eight weeks of TM.

• And in 1985, a report in the Journal of Counseling and Development demonstrated a significant reduction of symptoms among Vietnam War veterans practicing TM for at least three months. A control group using psychotherapy was found to have had no significant improvements.

Retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Brian Rees, M.D., M.P.H. primary author of the Congo studies and veteran of five tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, says that Transcendental Meditation "provides the mind and body with a unique state of ‘restful alertness’ that reduces deeply-rooted stress and improves brain function."

The military needs more of that − personnel who operate with greater efficiency and with less stress, during their service and beyond. The DoD is beginning to recognize the potential. It announced the funding of a $2.4 million study at the San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center study to compare the TM program to psychotherapy. This is a positive start. However, the results will not be known for about five years. In the meantime, many US military personal and veterans desperately need help now.

This is why the authors urge DoD leaders to adopt the best evidence-based solutions like TM, even if they are unfamiliar. We are both veterans practicing TM who have experienced positive changes in our lives due to this meditation. We observed positive changes in so many others, including military men and women. The TM evidence-based research tells an objective story pointing to a simple, fast, effective, and cost-effective solution. That’s what we all want for our military men and women, sooner, if possible, than later.

McKnight became the first 3-star commander to lead the U.S. Army Communications Command comprised of more than 33,000 soldiers and civilians globally spread throughout fourteen countries. He is the author of From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communication. Leffler, Ph.D., is executive director at the civilian think tank Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS) www.StrongMilitary.org. He served as an associate of the Proteus Management Group at the Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College. He is on Twitter.

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