Disability Rights of West Virginia
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Article by Jason Parmer, DRWV Staff Attorney
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. In the past, PTSD was called “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.
PTSD affects both combat veterans and the public, but veterans are more likely to experience PTSD. PTSD affects 3.5% of U.S. adults every year, and between 11-20% of veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD.
Military combat or terrorist attacks;
Sexual or physical assault;
Serious accidents, e.g., a car wreck;
Learning about the death or severe injury of a loved one;
Repeated or extreme work-related exposure to traumatic events, e.g., first responders who collect human remains or police officers exposed to details of child abuse.
Types of traumatic events that can cause PTSD are:
People with PTSD experience different symptoms:
Reliving the event – Recurring, involuntary, and intrusive memories of the traumatic experience can last long after the event has ended. Recurrent distressing dreams that are related to the traumatic event. Dissociative reactions (flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring.
Avoidance – Avoiding situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event. For example, combat veterans may avoid crowded places because it feels dangerous to be around so many people. People may stay busy, so they do not have to talk or think about the experience.
Negative thoughts – Feeling sad or detached from other people; loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable. Difficulty expressing happiness or other positive emotions. Feeling the world is dangerous and you cannot trust anyone.
Hyperarousal – Irritable behavior or aggressive behavior toward people or objects. Feeling “on edge,” or having difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Exaggerated startle response to ordinary stimuli such as a loud noise or an accidental touch. Reckless or destructive behavior, e.g., abusing drugs and alcohol or driving aggressively.
Depersonalization or Derealization – Persistent or recurring experiences of feeling detached from one’s mental processes or body, in “a dreamlike state;” or feeling a sense that one’s surroundings are unreal or distorted.
Treatment for PTSD
Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, and not everyone who develop PTSD requires psychiatric treatment. For some people, symptoms of PTSD subside or disappear over time. Others get better with the help of their support system (family, friends, or clergy). But many people need professional treatment to recover from psychological distress that can be intense and disabling. Examples of professional treatment for PTSD include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on modifying painful negative emotions and beliefs due to trauma. Therapists help the person confront distressing memories and emotions.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy uses virtual reality programs to help war veterans with PTSD re-experience the battlefield in a controlled, therapeutic way.
Stress Inoculation Therapy exposes people to mild levels of stress to build coping skills that defend against stressful triggers.
Group Therapy encourages survivors of traumatic event to share their experiences and reactions in a comfortable, non-judgmental setting. Group members help one another realize that many people would have responded the same way and felt the same emotions.
Medication including antidepressants are used to treat symptoms of PTSD, and recent scientific studies have shown that ketamine can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms.
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