Thursday, April 2, 2015

A conversation about PTSD

What is PTSD? We hear about it in the news, sometimes. We hear whispers about it at Uncle Joe's funeral- “you know he never was the same after the war...” And we see bits and pieces of it in articles about soldiers who've lost control and harmed people, blaming it on PTSD.

I'd like to begin a conversation on PTSD, what it is, who it affects, how it's treated and ways we, as a society, can begin a dialog to understanding it and changing the stigma that comes with it. This where the shit gets real. This is where we will dispel myths and misunderstandings.

  • You don't have PTSD unless you are amassing weapons and barricading yourself behind the sofa.
  • Only combat veterans experience PTSD
  • PTSD only happens to the weak
  • They (the person with PTSD) just need to talk about it
  • Admitting and getting treatment will interfere with my work
  • PTSD isn't treatable

That last one is the worst myth of all because it leads those suffering to not seek treatment. Treatment is available and can help. Just like any other illness PTSD will manifest differently in different people and the treatments will, accordingly, be different. There is no 'one size fits all' treatment, and there are no quick fixes. Treating PTSD takes time and commitment but there is help.

PTSD is a huge topic that is affecting someone you know. It is estimated that roughly 7% of the population will deal with PTSD at some point, that's about 5.2 million adults in a given year, numbers are here. Chances are you either know someone with PTSD or you know someone who is dealing with a loved one that has it. And if you live in a community with a high military population then your chances are even higher. And the chances are good that they don't talk about it.

Let's get this conversation started!

First, a definition and then in my next post I will revisit these myths and discuss them in more detail.

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic life event. These events can include assaults, natural or unnatural disasters, accidents or military combat. (Reference

There are 2.3 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, an estimated 20% of them are struggling with PTSD, and some of them don't know it or won't admit to it. Statistics say that 50% won't seek treatment because of the stigma associated with PTSD and that out of the half that do seek treatment only half of them will get adequate treatment. People who struggle with PTSD may not show it outwardly but inside they are hurting. They may live very normal lives, work full time jobs and be respected members of their communities. You can't tell by looking at someone if they have PTSD.

But PTSD isn't just a military issue, it can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic event, repeated trauma or threats to their life. It is suspected that PTSD affects 5.2 million adults in the US. A sudden traumatic life event, repeated abuse or being the victim of a crime can cause PTSD.

PTSD can manifest itself in many ways, as flashbacks, depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts or thought patterns and suicide or suicidal thoughts. For anyone dealing with PTSD their ability to deal with normal everyday stressors that you and I might take for granted is limited, they may not be able to drive, go to the dentist, or take a walk depending on how their symptoms play out in their lives.

If left unchecked these symptoms can worsen or increase over time and cause more symptoms to appear. It's likely that someone with untreated PTSD will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to ease the pain. Or they may choose the unthinkable, suicide. PTSD will not go away on its own. This year alone saw a 44 percent increase in suicides among male veterans under 30.

Next week we will look at each myth more deeply and discuss them in detail. Let's get this conversation going. We are losing 22 soldiers a day to this and that is unacceptable.

If you or someone you love is dealing with PTSD please don't delay, get help. There is help available, check out the links I've included in my post, or google PTSD help. Don't delay, every day, every moment counts.

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