Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is finally becoming a topic that is discussed – in public. It finally has ‘a voice’ and several avenues of treatment to address it.
I was fortunate to serve about seven years of my career in the Veterans Affairs system. I worked alongside some of the best, most caring providers and the most robust interprofessional teams. These teams consisted of physicians (geriatricians who focus on people over 65, in my case), nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and every level of trainee – students, residents, and fellows. Together we provided care to aging adults in the clinic, the acute care hospital, the intermediate unit, long-term-care (nursing home), and the domiciliary. The ‘dom’ was long term, independent housing for veterans who did not have a family to live with after the war.
I am thankful for every veteran that has served our country in one of the countless ways our uniformed services care for this country every day. The stories I heard during those years were enlightening, empowering, endearing, and sometimes gut wrenching. I have heard others say this: In my experience, those who talked the least about their service saw the most ‘action’ and devastation.
One day I was in clinic with a student. It was a very normal day. As the pharmacist, my visits mostly pertained to medications – why, how, when they are taken and the result. On this day, during a normal pharmacy clinic visit, one of our veterans told his story. It forever changed my life. Here is a paraphrase. I will leave out the specific war, because the story could fit any of them.
“I was assigned the night guard shift for my platoon. It was my duty to walk around the perimeter of the base to look for anyone (of the enemy) who might try to attack at night. It was typically uneventful. One night, as I rounded a corner, I was face-to-face with a man from the ‘other side.’ In a split second I thought about my family – my wife and children. I thought about how I just want to go home to them. I thought I don’t know this man. I don’t hate this man. He probably has a wife and children waiting for him at home, too. We might even be friends in other circumstances.’
We all sat and cried for a long time.
After this event, this man, this veteran had a mental breakdown. He was sent to an island where soldiers not able to function in combat were stationed during that war. While there he started trying to stop reliving the event through alcohol. When he finally got home to his wife and children, he was an alcoholic. He had posttraumatic stress disorder. But, it wasn’t recognized, diagnosed, and treated as it is now. I certainly don’t know all of the details, but he and his family were not able to reunite and stay together. It broke my heart to see what had happened. I wonder if his wife and children ever knew what happened? I wonder if knowing could have changed the outcome for their family. No doubt he would be forever changed after an experience like that.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a condition where there is stress and symptoms for more than three months after a trauma or highly stressful event (or series of events). The stress and symptoms disrupt regular daily activities and are distressing. PTSD can result from war (as in the example above), natural disasters, sexual or physical assault, horror, accidents, or other terrifying event. PTSD can present in about four different ways.
- Reliving the event – nightmares, flashbacks, triggers
- Avoiding any reminders of the event – driving if in a car crash; crowds if they cause insecurity; fireworks if associated with gunfire; movies related to the event
- Negative feelings or changes in feelings about the world and the future; suppressing or forgetting parts of the event
- Feeling keyed up (hyperarousal) – easily startled, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating
Treatment has multiple components. Understanding PTSD is an important step. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can help. In cognitive behavioral therapy, people can become aware of thoughts and feelings, and that allows them to be processed and better understood. Then skills to face those feelings and make changes in a way that allows them to have less impact are developed. For each person, this process is different. There are highly trained, experienced therapists who will work with each personal individually.
For medication treatment, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most commonly used. These are medications that are also commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. They are unlikely to resolve symptoms alone. They are an important part of the multiple components of treatment.
Other components might be exposure therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and more.
A recommended site to learn more about PTSD is through the VA.
Again, there is a growing number of resources available to anyone who might be experiencing PTSD. If you or someone you know might have PTSD, please seek help right away. To suffer alone is not the answer. Alcohol, drugs, and suicide are not the answer. Help is available!
For more information about PTSD, contact us at www.medsmash.com.
PTSD is a real disorder. It is estimated about 3.5% of adults in the US have PTSD. Over 9% of people ages 50-65 have now or have experienced PTSD.
It can be hard to think rationally when suffering from PTSD. The terror, stress, and anxiety can keep the brain in ‘fight or flight’ mode. When in this mode, reflection, perspective, and problem-solving functions are very limited.
So, how can you support someone suffering from PTSD? Understanding the disorder and being a source of compassion and love are good places to start.
No platitude or Bible verse makes PTSD go away. Some Christian leaders have implied PTSD is something that can be chosen or can be avoided with a focus on God. I strongly disagree. Sinful people can hurt, traumatize, and destroy other people. Even people who know and love God can be traumatized.
But as people of God, we can support people who have suffered. If you have PTSD, know you are not alone. If you know someone who has (or you suspect may have) PTSD, approach with God’s unconditional love. Support through the many stages and steps of recovery and learning to cope. PTSD doesn’t just go away at some point; it might take a lifetime of coping and skill building to live in spite of past trauma.
There are many stories of violence, war, and crimes in the Bible.
These are followed by God’s restorative grace and mercy.
There are many verses about love, strength, deliverance, and rest for our soul.
In time, with treatment and a strong support network, these conversations can be had.
Until then, in the more acute phases when the brain is so busy with ‘fight or flight’ mode, prayer, presence, and unconditional love are ways you can start the story of grace.
Be on the lookout for people who may have PTSD who are not yet receiving treatment. Pray for the many people in our world who are PTSD victims. Love and care for those with PTSD in your life.
1 John 4:11-12 The Message (MSG)
My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!