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'PTSD can create a new normal that's a lot worse'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Holbert-Siebert
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
June 27 was recognized as National Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day. This has been authorized by the United States Congress since 2010, and last year Congress designated the whole month of June as PTSD Awareness Month, to offer more opportunity to educate the public on this significant condition.

The Congressional resolution on the subject read, "The establishment of a National PTSD Awareness Day will raise public awareness about issues related to PTSD, reduce the stigma associated with PTSD, and help ensure that those suffering from the invisible wounds of war receive proper treatment."

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is often attributed to combat veterans, but they are not the only individuals that undergo the life altering effects of the disorder. It affects families of members and the trauma does not have to be wartime related. The traumatic event can be a near-death experience or injury, a strong emotional or physical reaction related to an event, or surviving an especially difficult situation.
There have been 110,618 diagnoses of PTSD amongst Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from April 2003 to December 2013, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

According to the United States Department of Veteran's Affairs National Center for PTSD, the risk of facing PTSD has many layers to how it can affect someone. If help isn't received following the trauma, it may make the memories harder to process, and additional stress can aggravate the symptoms as well.

Capt. Eva Leven, 375th Medical Operations Squadron Psychologist, works with members diagnosed with PTSD in the armed services.

"Depending on the severity, the stressful event, and whether it's something that happened when they were deployed or if it's something from their childhood, history or family, would create different repercussions," said Leven. "Not to say that everyone with PTSD seeks treatment, but how soon afterwards they seek treatment, and how motivated they are to seek treatment can really make a difference."

There's no way to know who will or won't experience PTSD, according to the VA, but several factors play a part: individual personality, severity of the event, proximity to the event or the people involved, duration of the trauma and the amount of support the person receives afterward. A small percentage of people who live through a traumatic event actually develop PTSD. Individuals may be at higher risk if they:
· Were directly involved in the traumatic event
· Were injured or had a near-death experience
· Survived an especially long-lasting or severe traumatic event
· Believed their life or that of someone around them was in danger
· Had a strong emotional or physical reaction during the event
· Received little or no support following the event
· Have multiple other sources of stress in their life

"PTSD can create a new normal that's a lot worse," said Leven. "You can still have symptoms of PTSD that don't meet diagnoses, but definitely have a negative impact. The criteria for diagnoses depends on frequency, severity, duration, and intensity."

"One thing I was impressed by in our provider training that is different from civilian internships was the several weeks we spend at the Center for Deployment Psychology," said Leven. "We focused on evidence-based treatments, such as prolonged exposure, cognitive processing and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR. It's comprehensive in terms of the wide range of treatments providers have been trained on."

EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate a patient's distress associated with traumatic memories.

Finding treatment that speaks to an individual is key to receiving effective help.
"The Mental Health Clinic would be best equipped to assist a patient suffering with PTSD because of the extensive training, but there are also other options as well," said Leven.

The Military Life and Family Counselor and Military One Source are confidential options to seek help as well.

The United States Department of Veteran's Affairs is another multi-faceted resource to find assistance with PTSD symptoms. They offer online tips and tools such as the PTSD Coach, a free mobile phone application that provides information about managing symptoms that commonly occur after trauma.

The VA also recommends peer support groups, the use of dogs to assist with PTSD and anxiety symptoms. Their website offers a story series about veterans of different conflicts sharing their journey through the difficulties of PTSD, called About Face.