The wounds of war are often invisible. For example, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects a significant number of Veterans and can last for decades after a trauma. Unfortunately, PTSD is not suffered alone or without consequence. Work and social functioning are frequently impacted, leaving Veterans and their families with challenges that go far beyond the disturbing flashbacks and memories often depicted in movies.
The good news is that there are treatments for PTSD that actually work and are offered across VA and DoD treatment facilities. The bad news is that no matter how much we reach out to offer Veterans these effective treatments, some will never seek care. The reasons for this vary, but foremost among these is that PTSD is characterized by extreme avoidance. Many Veterans also have logistical problems getting to treatment because of their location, transportation options, work schedules, etc. Others fear stigma (being shamed or discriminated against) of having a PTSD diagnosis and receiving treatment.
Even for those Veterans who are able to overcome these barriers and enter treatment, there are many moments between therapeutic appointments when managing stress can be challenging.
Teams at VA’s National Center for PTSD and DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology have collaborated to create a mobile phone application (app) to help Veterans and Service Members who have, or may have PTSD. The app, PTSD Coach, provides users with education about PTSD, information about professional care, a self-assessment for PTSD, opportunities to find support, and tools that can help with managing the stresses of daily life with PTSD. Tools are based on evidence-based PTSD treatment and range from relaxation skills and positive self-talk to anger management and other common self-help strategies. Users can customize tools based on their preferences and can integrate their own contacts, photos, and music.
Most people who carry smart phones have them within reach and on all the time. The goal of this new app is to take education, skills training, and support to Veterans wherever they are, whenever they need it. Plus, Veterans who are concerned about stigma can use the tool in complete anonymity.
It is hoped that this app provides Veterans with PTSD a new way to build the skills needed to improve life for themselves and their families. For Veterans in treatment already, PTSD Coach can help with coping between sessions. For Veterans not yet in treatment, PTSD Coach provides tools for managing stress and helps them to understand their difficulties better and learn more about PTSD treatment.
PTSD Coach can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store on iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. It will also be available for Android phones later this Spring. More apps will also be rolled out soon, including the PTSD Family Coach for family members of Veterans with PTSD.
Julia Hoffman is a Clinical Psychologist with VA’s National Center for PTSD.