By Petra M. Jones
Mental Health Association of Southwest FloridaJune is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month.
What is PTSD and who suffers from it? PTSD is an anxiety disorder that follows the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents or physical or sexual assault in childhood or as an adult.
Some of the symptoms may include the following:
Repeatedly thinking about the trauma;
Being constantly alert or on guard;
Physical symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps or low back pain;
Feelings of mistrust;
Avoiding reminders of the trauma.
PTSD can be treated. Treatment and support are important to the recovery process. Although memories won't go away, individuals can learn how to manage their response to these memories and the feelings they bring up and reduce the frequency and intensity of their reactions. Some of the help that is available in the treatment of PTSD includes psychotherapy. Although it may be painful to face the trauma an individual went through, doing so with the help of a mental health professional can help him or her get better.
Different types of therapy are available. Furthermore, medication is available to treat some of the symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Support groups are another important part in the healing process. This form of therapy, led by a mental health professional, involves groups of people with similar issues to talk about. Talking to other survivors of trauma can be a helpful step in recovery. People can share their thoughts to help resolve their feelings, gain confidence in coping with the memories and symptoms and find comfort in knowing they are not alone.
One group where PTSD is especially prevalent is soldiers returning from combat missions. In addition, they are the least likely to ask for help.
One in five troops returning home experience PTSD. As many as thirty percent of soldiers who have seen three or four combat deployments have PTSD. Difficulties reported by National Guard troops and reservists are even higher.
Often, these problems don't surface until months after troops return home. Nearly half of those suffering from PTSD do not seek treatment, and of those soldiers who do start treatment between 20 and 50 percent do not complete it.
These conditions have a major impact on families. Many veterans cite "connecting emotionally with family" as a major concern. The percentage of soldiers who have conflicts with family and others quadrupled after returning from combat. Living and caring for veterans with mental health concerns is also stressful and can change the way families relate to each other. This is particularly important because families play a central role in supporting people with PTSD.
If you know someone who is suffering from PTSD, please encourage him or her to get help.
For additional information you can contact the Mental Health Association of Southwest Florida at 239/261-5405 or www.mhaswfl.org. Other resources include National Institute of Mental Health www.nimh.nih.gov; National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs www.ncptsd.va.gov.