ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND— Soldiers around the world who fight in war zones often face similar issues once they return home, including trying to get back to their normal routines. They may have problems readjusting and experience severe anxiety known as post-traumatic stress that can even lead to suicide. Psychological counseling may help, but so may interactive videos designed to help soldiers deal with combat stress. One video is helping some US soldiers who return from war.
Army veteran Robert Menendez knows this scenario all too well. This video simulation brings back memories of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was always having dreams, you know, certain things that happened during deployments, especially my last one, that has to do with other people we may have lost,” he said.
Like the actor in the video, Menendez often felt anxious and angry. He became distant from family and friends.
“So I only told people that I felt comfortable with who had experienced it and may be going through it as well,” he said.
So, a military friend suggested he download this free, interactive video called The War Inside. It dramatizes different scenarios about the challenges of coming home after combat. Menendez identified with a soldier experiencing post-traumatic stress who is trying to understand and control his behavior.
“I think, once I acknowledged that I did have issues, it actually helped me cope with it," said Menendez.
The War Inside is produced by WILL Interactive. Sharon Sloane, the company's founder, said the scenarios are based on real stories.
“I think it’s very important to give someone something that he or she can use in the privacy of their own home when they can really get in touch with their feelings. They give people the opportunity to experiment with choices in what they want to do to handle a situation,” said Sloane.
Those choices are in the form of questions that pop up on the screen during the scenes and users can think about how they would respond. Menendez said, depending on the answer he picks, the outcome will be different.
“It tells you what could happen and, if you had done something else, what would happen then. I started trying each individual reaction and some outcomes were better than the others,” he said.
The War Inside has been viewed by tens of thousands of soldiers, individually and in groups. It’s an effective tool, said psychiatrist Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a retired army colonel.
“Sometimes it resonates with their war-time experiences. These are realistic. It brings them back to being in Iraq, but that engages them and draws them in,” said Ritchie.
Even though Menendez still struggles with post-traumatic stress, he said the video has helped him open up to family and friends, and control his anger.
“If somebody invites me somewhere, and I don’t want to go, and they ask me again, I say I don’t want to go. Instead of slamming a door in his face, I’ll just say 'I’m sorry,'” said Menendez.
While no video can erase the trauma of combat, The War Inside is helping ease its lingering effects.