Fireworks and PTSD: Be a good neighbor

Here comes Independence Day! It’s time for barbecues, yard games, fun with family and friends — and of course, fireworks! But fireworks aren’t always enjoyable for everyone. Many people find fireworks to be a source of stress, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD can develop in people who have experienced particularly shocking, frightening or dangerous events in their lives. These events can often trigger a “fight-or-flight” response. This response can defend or save a person in a life-threatening situation. However, it can also lead to long-lasting effects in which the person feels anxious or afraid, even when not in danger.

Adults diagnosed with this serious disorder experience many of the following symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event:

  • Flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance behavior like staying away from particular places or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event
  • Being easily startled or having angry outbursts
  • Trouble remembering key events or having distorted feelings like guilt or blame

Children and teens react differently, and their symptoms may include:

  • Bed wetting after potty training
  • Inability to talk after learning how to talk
  • Acting out the traumatic event during play time
  • Unusual clinginess with a parent or other adult

Nearly eight percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and many are veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of veterans who served in Vietnam, the Gulf War and Operations Enduring/Iraqi Freedom experience PTSD at some point in their lives. There are about 10 million veterans from these operations alive today, meaning 1 to 3 million are potentially struggling with PTSD at any moment.

Be a good neighbor

Isn’t it sad to think that fireworks, used to celebrate our freedom on this day, could actually be causing harm to so many people that fought to protect that freedom? The Fourth of July can be a fun holiday that celebrates who we are as a country. It’s important to respect everyone’s right to celebrate in their own way.

Here are ways to help reduce the stress of PTSD for those in your community this Independence Day:

  • Be mindful of any signs that there are veterans or others with PTSD in your neighborhood
  • Notify anyone in your neighborhood who has PTSD before lighting your fireworks
  • Understand that someone playing loud music may be trying to drown out the sound of fireworks
  • Light your personal fireworks at a reasonable hour of the evening
  • Consider lighting your fireworks at a public place away from homes

If you’d like to learn more or find resources, visit the National Center for PTSD’s website at