War, Stress, and PTSD

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Other things that happen in a combat situation can add stress to an already stressful situation and may contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. These things include the politics around a war, where it's fought, and the type of enemy you face. footnote 1

Here are some things that may result in more stress during combat.

Who's the enemy?

In some wars, the enemy is clear, but this is not always the case. In Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq), the enemy could have been anyone. A man herding sheep or a store owner could harm you. You may be uncertain whether you are doing the right thing when challenging people or even shooting at them. This adds stress to an already traumatic event and can contribute to PTSD. The guerilla and terrorist aspects of the war add to the uncertainty. This was also the case in the Vietnam War.

Tour of duty

In World War II, soldiers and their families knew they were in until the end. In Vietnam and Desert Storm (the first Gulf War), most soldiers served only one tour of duty. But soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may serve more than one tour, or the tour may be extended. You may serve a tour, come home and adjust to life, and then be sent back again.

Mission and role

If your mission is unclear, it adds stress. In Vietnam, some soldiers questioned why the United States was there. This also occurred in Iraq. You also may question your role in the war. Are you a soldier, a policeman, or a peacekeeper? The military trains soldiers, and playing a different role can add to stress.

Political and social support

World War II and the Korean War had overall public support. The Vietnam War did not. Soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have had much more public support, but political opinions shift.

Your view of the war also makes a difference. If you do not feel the war is progressing, you can lose heart.

Poor weather, food, housing, and other stressors

A jungle or desert is a difficult climate in which to fight. Rain, heat, insects, and sand storms all can be stressful. What you eat and how you are housed can add to or reduce stress. Physical problems, such as an aching back or sore knees, also add to stress.


  1. Wright KM, et al. (2012). Alcohol problems, aggression, and other externalizing behaviors after return from deployment: Understanding the role of combat exposure, internalizing symptoms, and social environment. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(7): 782-800.

ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Current as ofMay 3, 2017