Explaining Post Traumatic Stress

post traumatic stress disorder, concorde, health care professionals

Today is National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. What began as PTSD awareness day in 2010 was later expanded into PTSD Awareness Month by the Senate in 2014.

"Raising PTSD awareness is essential to overcoming the myth, misinformation, and stigma surrounding this mental health problem," said U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald.

From nursing students to dental hygienists, as a future health care professional, you might find yourself on the front lines of treating PTSD patients or educating the public on the topic.

Typically, when folks have conversations about PTSD it's in the context of veterans' and first responders' response to the often horrific nature of their service, and they wouldn't be incorrect. But did you know that PTSD is more widespread than that?

One out of 13 people ...

PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after someone has been exposed to a single traumatic event or multiple traumatic events. It could be brought on by sexual or physical abuse, an unexpected life event (i.e. house fire, natural disaster, terrorist attack, etc.) or war-related combat stress.

It's important to note that because someone might have been affected by a traumatic event does not mean that they will develop PTSD.

While it's widely underreported, often due to misdiagnosis and the stigma associated with PTSD, the Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs reports that, "an estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4 percent) twice as likely as men (5 percent) to develop PTSD."

That's an estimated one out of every 13 people. So whether it's a patient, family member or acquaintance, there's a high propensity that someone in your life might struggle with PTSD.

How might it manifest itself?

When discussing a diagnosis of PTSD, health professionals look for clusters of symptoms that last for one month or longer and interfere with personal and professional aspects of daily life.

The Sidran Institute, a leading traumatic stress education and advocacy organization, define the clusters as:

  • Re-living the event through recurring nightmares or other intrusive images that occur at any time. People who suffer from PTSD also have extreme emotional or physical reactions, such as chills, heart palpitations, or panic when faced with reminders of the event. One or more of these symptoms must be present for diagnosis.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event including places, people, thoughts, or other activities associated with the trauma. PTSD sufferers might feel emotionally detached, withdraw from friends and family and lose interest in everyday activities. Three or more of these symptoms must be present for diagnosis.
  • Being on guard or hyper-aroused at all times, including feeling irritable or sudden anger, having difficulty sleeping or a lack of concentration, being overly alert or easily startled. Two or more of these symptoms must be present for diagnosis.

What does treatment look like for these individuals?

We've come a long way since the early 1980s, when many in the health community didn't even acknowledge PTSD as a viable diagnosis.

The majority of patients have found success with a combination of counseling and medication. Here's a great resource from The National Center for PTSD with answers to questions you might already be asking yourself.

Each case is different. For many, these treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense.

Equally important is the availability of a listening ear. While some have difficulty opening up and processing, others slowly start to identify emotional and behavioral changes that they might want to share in order to heal.

If you're a Concorde student dealing with symptoms of PTSD, start with the staff in student affairs. They're there to listen, understand and help.

For all of us, today's charge is to be part of the solution: Learn. Connect. Share.

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