Celebrate Respectfully: Fireworks and PTSD
For most Americans, the 4th of July conjures ideas of family and friends, a sizzling grill, and celebrating America’s birthday with a fireworks display. However, not all Americans share the same enthusiasm for the holiday, or its traditional festivities. In fact, combat veterans who suffer from PTSD may be dreading the upcoming holiday (1).
PTSD, or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric condition which generally occurs in people who have experienced traumatic events such as war/combat, rape, natural disasters, accidents, or terrorist attacks (2). According to The American Psychiatric Association, it is estimated that one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their life. In addition, women are twice as likely to develop the condition as men (2).
Specifically, the 4th of July presents issues for combat veterans suffering from PTSD because the loud booms, flashes of light, and window-shaking rumbles are similar to live bombs and/or gunshots heard during active military combat. These sounds and lights can trigger emotional responses such as fear, anger, sadness, panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares (2). In the most extreme cases, ex-combat veterans have been so upset by 4th of July festivities they have actually committed suicide (1).
This is deeply upsetting when considering the 4th of July is a time for our country to celebrate our independence, thanks in large part to our military forces. Knowing that members who have actively fought for, and protected, those freedoms may not be able to participate in the celebration is disheartening.
So, how can we show our respect while still joining in the festivities? Of course, having a fireworks-free 4th is possible. Choose to grill out with friends, attend the parade, play lawn games, and be sure to catch the scheduled fireworks displays in your area which have been scheduled ahead of time. Scheduled events allow people time to prepare and take the step necessary to attend, enjoy, or avoid the show.
If you decide to set fireworks off at your own home, following city codes and neighborhood associate regulations is critical. Unexpected fireworks are the most triggering as they can be startling even to those who aren’t living with PTSD (3). Another great option is to talk to your neighbors. Finding out if you have combat veterans in your area can help you avoid disturbing them, and if you are planning to set off fireworks, let your neighbors know when you plan to do so in order for them to prepare.
Some veterans have also taken steps to raise awareness by placing signs in their front yards alerting people that a combat veteran lives there. In fact, a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD will provide fellow veterans with signs upon request. To learn more, check out their non-profit organization, Military With PTSD.
Combat veterans who experience PTSD and other related symptoms increased by fireworks near the 4th of July are encouraged to speak to their neighbors (3). Many times, education can help prevent stressful situations before they occur. If speaking with your neighbors is not an option, you can plan to practice self-awareness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, self-talk to assure yourself of your safety, use headphones, or plan to get away (3). If these options do not seem viable, seeking counseling or therapy may also provide you with more way to handle the stress associated with the holiday (3).
Taking these simple steps can help alleviate unnecessary stress around the 4th of July and help to keep our communities happy and healthy.
1. Siemaszko, Corky. “For Military Vets with PTSD, 4th and Fireworks Can Be Nerve-Wracking.” NBCNews.com. 4 July 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/military-vets-ptsd-4th-fireworks-can-be-nerve-wracking-n602526.
2. Parekh, Ranna (M.D., M.P.H.). “What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?” American Psychiatric Association. January 2017. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd.
1. “How to Manage PTSD on the 4th of July.” PeaceHealth.org. 20 June 2018. Retrieved from https://www.peacehealth.org/healthy-you/how-manage-ptsd-4th-july.