By C. Todd Lopez
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 24, 2009 - The Army can mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder by training solders to be more mentally resilient before combat, an Army doctor said yesterday. "You come across an event and you interpret it based on whatever strengths, weaknesses or baggage you show up in the Army with," said Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, director of the Army's comprehensive soldier fitness program. "If we could improve the resilience of the people before they had some adverse event, we might very well be able to have them view it as adverse -- but not traumatic."
During a panel discussion March 23 at the Reserve Officer Association in Washington, D.C., Cornum discussed the importance of comprehensive soldier fitness -- the idea that soldiers must be both physically and mentally fit if they are going to be their best on the battlefield.
Many soldiers who have experienced traumatic events do report PTSD-related issues, such as nightmares, but many also report positive outcomes as well -- something Cornum calls "post-traumatic growth." Those outcomes include enhanced self-confidence and leadership, personal strength, spiritual growth and a greater appreciation of life.
More soldiers could be equipped ahead of time to deal with traumatic events so they can avoid the problems associated with PTSD, she said.
"The best way to treat a death by heart attack is not CPR," she explained. "The best way is to prevent the heart attack. It's a lifestyle and culture change. And that's how we should look at mental health. Look at it with a preventative model and enhanced health model, not a 'waiting-till-we-need-therapy' model. That's what comprehensive soldier fitness is setting out to do."
Comprehensive soldier fitness is about increasing the resiliency of soldiers by developing all the dimensions of a soldier, she said, including the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family elements.
The Army is developing a global assessment tool to help assess all five elements of a soldier's fitness, Cornum said. The GAT is in a pilot status now and is expected to be delivered across the Army this year.
"Based on this, you get an individual training program," Cornum said. And after that, if needed, soldiers can be referred to intervention programs that can help them strengthen their fitness needs -- whether psychological or physical.
(C. Todd Lopez works for Army News Service.)