Halloween and PTSD

This was originally posted on my professional blog, but since it relates to PTSD and it’s almost a Public Service Announcement, I thought I would post it here too.  (if you follow both blogs I apologize for the repetition)

That’s a broad topic (Halloween and PTSD).  When I mentioned blogging on this topic to a friend she said “There’s a connection between the two?”.

The answer is yes.  Halloween can be a really scary (no pun intended) season for SOME people with PTSD.   Some people that have PTSD might be triggered with the gore/props, jump scares and the masks or cloaking that take place for Halloween.

Gore/props- fake blood, body parts, bones can be a trigger, especially for combat Veterans with PTSD. Body parts and blood come right out of a battlefield scene and can bring back morbid memories.

Jump scares- sneaking out from behind a corner and shouting “boo” might seem like a funny idea, but to someone that has PTSD and is already hyper vigilant (over stimulated, constantly scanning) it can be detrimental.  That initial shock of adrenaline that happens to anyone when they are scared can actually trigger physiological stimuli in the body, and “prepare” the body for combat, or any other traumatic scenario the person has experienced.

Masks/Costumes- masks are a metaphor for hiding your true feelings or the “true” person underneath.  On Halloween, they are not viewed that way, they are for fun and celebration. To a person with PTSD, not being able to read the facial expressions and subtle cues because of a mask can make them extremely uncomfortable and stand offish.

I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying- not ALL people with PTSD have issues with Halloween.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Bragg. Their Commander asked each Company to do a Halloween themed Trunk or Treat and Haunted House. I was leery, and spent the week leading up to Halloween (their prep and construction time) waiting for these Vets to be triggered. If anyone was, they didn’t show it. They had some of the goriest, scariest scenes constructed and they took great delight in scaring each other and older visitors. It was one of the biggest morale building events I had ever seen.

On the contrary, last year, several of my Active Duty Soldiers and Airmen called to tell me they were having issues because they had been triggered by another Soldier who had dressed up and hid in the bushes along their PT route, jumping out to scare people. When someone reported it, the Chain of Command made this Soldier stop, but some damage had already been done.

In summary, just use caution and discretion when engaging people in your Halloween festivities.  Don’t criticize for lack of costume, not wanting to go to Halloween parties or “haunted” houses/corn mazes/hayrides.  You never know how they are being interpreted to others.


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