Tuesday, June 27 is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. The National Center for PTSD promotes awareness of PTSD and effective treatments yearlong. Mental health experts are not sure why some people develop PTSD and others don’t.
After a traumatic event, most people have painful memories. For many, the effects of the event fade over time. For others, the memories, thoughts and feelings don't go away, even within months or years afterwards.
“Overall incidence of PTSD does not appear to have changed across the wars we have fought in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, nor has the severity of symptoms…We believe the disorder we now call PTSD has existed since wars have been fought, although identified by other names,” said Dr. Antonette Zeiss, chief consultant, Office of Mental Health Services, said.
Dr. Zeiss listed the most recognizable symptoms of PTSD as emotional re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, emotional numbing, and increased arousal. Symptoms of re-experiencing include vivid memories, nightmares and flashbacks. Avoidance symptoms include lack of interest in significant activities, an inability to drive on busy roads, be in places with other people, personal estrangements, and lack of emotional involvement with others. Increased arousal includes irritability and outbursts of anger, an exaggerated response when startled and the inability to fall sleep or stay asleep.
“Greater understanding and awareness of PTSD will help veterans and others recognize symptoms, and seek and obtain needed care," said Dr. Paula P. Schnurr, Executive Director of the National Center for PTSD.
According to the American Psychological Association, homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely to be haunted by PTSD than homeless vets of previous eras.
"A lot of studies show that homeless people often experience PTSD after becoming homeless, and that many veterans experienced trauma even before entering the military," said psychologist Jack Tsai, Ph.D., of Yale University.
However, homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had lower rates of psychotic disorders and substance abuse than homeless veterans of prior wars, possibly because of increased VA efforts to provide early mental health interventions and the military's zero-tolerance policy on substance abuse, adopted in 1982, said Tsai.
Despite their high need for help, many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans didn’t receive any Veterans Administration (VA) disability payments, likely because they had served so recently and were just learning about the VA's offerings.
Huntington, N.Y., trauma expert and private practitioner, Elizabeth Carll, Ph.D., developed approaches to working with families in which a member has PTSD.
Her strategies include:
- Teaching stress-management skills.
- Using families' previously effective coping skills to build a framework for present and future resilience.
- Discussing how the traumatized person and family members want to address the event with people outside the family. This concept is particularly important in the case of emotionally loaded traumas, such as rape.
- Helping the family to understand that everyone is impacted by the event, even if that is not apparent at first.
- Seeing family members in flexible configurations: individual, dyadic or group level, depending on need and treatment flow.
- Understanding men and women, as well as individuals, process trauma differently. Women may want to talk about it more, for example, while men may shut down or take their feelings out through exercise or activity. Likewise, not everyone processes trauma in the same way, and recovery times and patterns may vary significantly from person to person, Carll noted.
"PTSD tends to wreak havoc on intimate relationships," said psychologist Candice Monson, Ph.D., deputy director of the women's health sciences division of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
The most important message we can share about National PTSD Awareness Day is this: no matter what you are going through, you are not alone. Help is available. You’re worth it.
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