PTSD Awareness Month sheds light on the dark psychological effects of war and the dogs who are trained to lead the way out of that darkness.

William, a US Marine, is driving his car on an otherwise ordinary day when a storm approaches and thunder and lightning strike. William is pulled back to another world, another life. He pulls over, covers his head, and waits for the terror to pass. William is one of over 12 million Americans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, each year. Fortunately, William is also a member of Freedom Dogs, a San Diego-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to improving the lives of military members suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other war-related injuries and impairments through the use of trained service dogs.

Previously referred to as “shell shock,” or “battle fatigue,” PTSD is a psychiatric disorder common in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. According to the American Psychological Association, people with PTSD suffer intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear, or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.

Although PTSD is often associated with military veterans, the terrifying psychological disorder affects people from all walks of life. In the U.S. approximately 3.5% of adults are diagnosed with PTSD every year, and an estimated 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Still, PTSD is most prevalent in those who have served in the military. A 2021 study found that among those who served after 9/11, a staggering 75% reported that they had experienced PTSD.

In 2010, The Senate declared June 27 to be National PTSD Awareness Day, and in 2014, designated the month of June as National PTSD Awareness Month. Spreading the word about PTSD – what it is, what the symptoms are, who suffers from PTSD, and what to do about it – is the most important thing we can do. PTSD is treatable, yet many who suffer from it do not seek treatment; many need the guidance of those around them to recognize the signs and guide them to the assistance and support they need.

To this end, Freedom Dogs pairs wounded Military heroes with specialty service dogs that are trained to recognize the signs of PTSD and help their humans out of a trigger response. With a simple touch of his nose, William’s Freedom Dog brings him out of his traumatizing memories and back to the present. William explains that with that touch, his dog brings him back into reality. “You are not over there,” the dog is saying to him. “You are here. Be with me. Be in this moment.” William’s Freedom Dog also helps to break his isolation and reduce stress. Thanks to William’s Freedom Dog, he is more comfortable leaving his house, and encountering new people, which helps in his transition back to civilian life.

www.freedomdogs.org