Invisible Injury

PTSD – the invisible injury

Many members of Team Germany suffer from PTSD. The Bundeswehr maintains its own support services for them. Sport often plays a significant role in their treatment. That is also why the Invictus Games are so important.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness. It can occur after traumatic experiences, such as when people experience life-threatening situations, catastrophic events or great suffering (including from others).

Around 3 per cent of all soldiers on deployment suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Source: Bundeswehr/Anne Weinrich

Trauma occurs when such experiences have such a strong after-effect that they shake essential mental foundations and the mind does not recover from them. As a result, post-traumatic stress disorder can occur: The experience haunts the person, unwanted memories keep intruding.

Typical symptoms of PTSD are:

  1. Persistent memories and nightmares
  2. Repression of what has happened and avoidance of similar situations
  3. Restlessness, irritability, sleep disturbances
  4. Social isolation, flattening of interests

PTSD and the German Federal Armed Forces

PTSD in members of the armed forces

When deployed, members of the armed forces are exposed to great stress. They may find themselves in life-threatening situations or have to witness severe suffering. During missions in conflict and disaster areas, they can suffer traumas that can lead to PTSD, but often also to anxiety, depression or addiction.

Returning soldiers are therefore always examined by a troop doctor. However, PTSD often only appears months or years later. Even then, treatment is still possible and makes sense. A Bundeswehr study concludes that around 3 per cent of all soldiers suffer from PTSD after deployment.

What PTSD means for Family & Friends

PTSD leads to the affected person’s behaviour changing. Those around them notice that they withdraw or have fluctuations in emotions: From sleep disturbances, quick irritability and outbursts to being overwhelmed in everyday situations or emotionally blunted.

Family & Friends play an essential role in helping those with the disease. At the same time, they are also affected by the consequences. Source: German Armed Forces/Andrea Bienert

These changes can be met with incomprehension or a feeling of helplessness by relatives and the personal environment. Because they cannot explain what is going on – or how they could help. Relationships can suffer as a result and conflicts arise.

Family & Friends therefore play an important role when it comes to helping those who are injured in body and soul. They are often the ones who give them the impetus to seek treatment. They are fellow sufferers – because, for example, everyday family life changes. And they stand by the side of those who are ill on their way back to life.


“After returning from my second assignment in Afghanistan in 2013, I was often very restless and irritable. I was also afraid to take responsibility in everyday situations – for example, when I was supposed to take care of my young son alone. It was always clear to me that I would get help as soon as my family life was affected by my service. (…) My troop doctor knew about post-traumatic stress disorder and arranged for further examinations and initial treatment steps.” – Stefan Huss, participant in the Invictus Games Toronto 2017 and Sydney 2018

How the Bundeswehr supports those affected

The Bundeswehr has set up a support service that is specifically aimed at soldiers, civilian staff and former members of the Bundeswehr with mental health problems. PTSD support is available to those affected, but also to their relatives, comrades, superiors or helpers.

Since 2010, there has been a central point of contact in the Federal Ministry of Defence in the form of the PTSD Officer. The Act on the Continued Use of Military Personnel and the Soldiers’ Pensions Act lay the foundations for the Bundeswehr to provide extensive support to those affected. The goal is to help them back into life and, if possible, reintegrate them into service.

Specialist doctors from the Bundeswehr care for the sick. Source: Bundeswehr/Jonas Weber

Offers of help

The medical service offers active and former soldiers a range of therapies. Specialists at the Bundeswehr hospitals provide them with individual care. Where appropriate, those affected are also treated in civilian facilities.

Interdisciplinary patient-centred rehabilitation teams (IPR) plan the course of treatment and rehabilitation individually. Experts from the Bundeswehr hospitals and the regional medical facilities work together in this process.

Possible forms of treatment include:
  • Inpatient psychotherapy
  • Outpatient psychotherapy
  • Trauma therapy
  • Moral therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Communicative movement therapy
  • Sports therapy
  • Family & Friends are included and also considered when offers are made. These include:*
  • Outpatient couples counselling
  • Outpatient group sessions for family members
  • Family weekends as part of sports therapy or military pastoral care
  • Specialist counselling seminars

Find more information here:
PTSD Help Desk

The role of sport in the treatment of PTSD

Sport and sports therapy play a role not only in the rehabilitation of physical injuries, but also in psychological injuries. The Bundeswehr’s sports therapy builds on health sports, fitness and relaxation. This is because sport strengthens self-esteem, makes it possible to experience improvements through exertion and creates routines.

Sports therapy for those injured in action

If there is an appropriate medical indication, the sports therapy group of the Bundeswehr Sports School can offer sports therapy courses for deployment-related PTSD disorders.

For the competitors of Team Germany, the Invictus Games are another important step on their individual path to rehabilitation. Source: Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023 project team

The introductory course deals with fitness, flexibility, coordination and strength. This is followed by team and experience-oriented sports. The focus is on physical and mental health, not on performance. Psychological support is an integral part of the therapy. The jointly set goals include both sporting and psychological aspects.

The sports therapy group after deployment injury

Training takes place in the sports therapy group. Here, the members of the group are also prepared for competitions such as the Invictus Games. Those who have already made significant progress in their rehabilitation process and for whom the specialists expect a further positive effect from the international sporting event take part in the games.


“When I’m in the gym, my thoughts are only on myself and my muscles. Sport gives me strength, continuity and consistency with fixed training days and schedules.” – Vocko, Team Captain Invictus Games The Hague 2022

The Invictus Games make the strength and sense of community of the Invictus Community visible to all. Source: German Armed Forces/Anne Weinrich

The Invictus Games as a milestone on the way back to life

For many competitors, the Invictus Games are a special highlight of their rehabilitation. Here they compete in respectful, friendly competition. And here they meet the Invictus Community – an international community of people who share their experiences and support each other. This includes competitors as well as Family & Friends.

In the Invictus Community, there is a camaraderie of exchange and genuine understanding for each other. Together they all experience an event with an extensive social programme that is all about them and their individual experiences. Here they feel respect, here their achievement on their way back to life is celebrated.

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