PTSD help available for those suffering
HANCOCK – Experiencing a traumatic event, like a car crash or combat overseas, can have a lasting effect on somebody. This effect is more commonly known as post traumatic stress disorder.
VA Psychologist Christy Girard said that when people are exposed to dangerous situations, it changes how they look at themselves, the world and other people.
“PTSD is someone getting stuck in the natural recovery process,” Girard said. “Whenever someone has traumatic experiences, they’ll get the nightmares, the intrusive thoughts, kind of be on guard for a while, trouble sleeping – all that’s very common with any traumatic event.”
But some people get stuck on those symptoms and that’s when it becomes post traumatic stress disorder.
“For the majority of people over time, those symptoms reduce, like if you’ve been in a car accident,” Girard said. “It’s hard at first, but slowly you get back in the car. If you can never get back in the car, you probably have PTSD.”
There are a lot of different factors that can go into getting PTSD. The more times someone has been exposed to a traumatic experience the more likely it is for someone to develop PTSD.
“If you have an injury as a result of your trauma you’re more likely to get PTSD,” Girard said. “If people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping, that can prolong the PTSD. In general, women tend to be more often diagnosed with PTSD but it’s unclear if that’s the real thing or if women are just reporting more.”
With veterans, PTSD often comes from combat exposure, witnessing the death of friends and military sexual trauma. The symptoms can leave an impression on work and relationships with family and friends, as well as physical health.
“You can see high blood pressure and stress related illnesses,” Girard said.
At the VA there a few different options. All of the outpatient clinics across the UP offer therapy services (individual and group). There are also some residential services available.
They also use “evidence-based therapy,” which have supporting evidence that the treatments do improve quality of life and help someone get back into a natural process of recovery. One is cognitive processing therapy and the other is prolonged exposure.
“For both of them, we start with education about the symptoms, really normalizing it,” Girard said. “One of the key facts is that all of the symptoms in PTSD make sense, given what the person has experienced. Sometimes there’s a tendency to feel out of control or they’re going crazy, but there’s a big education proponent, helping them see how they got where they are today.”
With that is skill building and increasing awareness on the impact that everything is having on their life. A lot of times there’s a great amount of avoidance that occurs.
“The world just gets smaller and smaller – you can’t go to the store, you can’t go to a family wedding. We help them build some skills on how to approach those situations again. … the goal on all of it is to help that natural recovery and improve quality of life.”
Girard said a lot of what she sees is related to combat exposure. About 11 to 20 percent of deployed veterans to Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back with PTSD. Vietnam veterans were at about 30 percent. Gulf war vets are at about 10 percent.
Another trigger for PTSD can be military sexual assault trauma.
“23 percent of women report sexual assault while in the military. 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men report sexual harassment when in the military. We definitely see a lot of that as well, sometimes both at once.”
Girard also said that some people are hesitant to come forward if they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD and recommends that people visit ptsd.va.gov for more information on PTSD, as it could be a place for people to start. There is also a veteran’s crisis line for people who are struggling – 1-800-273-8255.
“It’s a confidential line where people can talk about what’s going on and get access to help,” Girard said.