Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a mental disorder that can affect people who experienced a shocking event such as sexual assault and car accidents. Soldiers are put at a high risk of such a disability due to the extreme circumstances of their positions. “We believe that a good soldier is measured not only by his or her physical skills, but also by his or her healthy mind,” says Lt. Col. Dr. Ariel Ben-Yehuda, head of the clinical branch in the mental health department. Our commanders explain how they train their soldiers to face challenges and prevent emotional scarring.

How the Israeli Military is fighting PTSD at its core

The Armored Corps

Soldiers in the Armored Corps often find themselves sitting in a tank for hours, even days, unable to see their surroundings. To prepare the soldiers for the anxiety they may face, commanders create simulations. Soldiers are placed in a tank for 24 hours without watches or phones in order to adapt to the lack of awareness of time and space.

Additionally, commanders teach their soldiers lessons that are relevant outside the tank. One of the most important concepts soldiers must grasp is failure – they must know that they won’t always succeed. To prepare them for this reality, commanders assign their soldiers missions that can’t be completed.  

How the Israeli Military is fighting PTSD at its core

Combat Soldiers in Judea and Samaria

Due to the high rate of terror attacks, the situation in Judea and Samaria is a complicated one, especially for those serving in the area. How does a soldier feel when he sees a vehicle racing towards him at 75 miles per hour? Or when they witness a friend being stabbed? How does a soldier feel when he realizes that he’s in constant mortal danger?

The IDF (Zahal) launched the MAGEN (Hebrew for “shield”) program to address these circumstances. During their training, soldiers learn how to support each other in the event of one of their squad members emotionally breaking down. Soldiers attend lectures and talks with psychologists and mental health experts. This provides them with the tools to avoid post-traumatic stress before it develops.

After every operation, a team of mental health officers arrive at the scene to provide emotional assistance to the soldiers. Those in need are then given further attention at the hospital and in their unit. The goal is to get the soldiers back “on track” and to help them overcome the trauma they’ve experienced.

How the Israeli Military is fighting PTSD at its core

Navy Submariners

Much like the soldiers in the Armored Corps, tens of submariners spend weeks at a time confined inside the submarine with their crew. Because the environment is so isolating, officers screen potential submariners with extreme care. During the tryouts, commanders observe how their soldiers interact with each other, making sure they can cooperate under enormous pressure.

Soldiers are also trained to live with isolation – not only from dry land, but also from the outside world. In training, soldiers have their phones taken away for weeks, and communicate solely with their fellow soldiers and commanders.

Knowing that they’re well trained and prepared for any threat, soldiers gain confidence and cope better in combat. “Every exercise begins with a simulated attack. The forces practice simply being alert,” says Lt. Col. Dr. Ariel Ben-Yehuda. “Here, we focus on remaining functional immediately after a traumatic situation and supporting one another. Fighting and exercising alongside friends fosters contentment and promotes confidence. These are essential elements in preventing PTSD.”