A simple acronym that encapsulates a disorder impacting the lives of approximately 7 million Americans who are finding trouble mentally and emotionally processing a life-threatening or terrifying event that has occurred in their lives.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder can happen to anybody who has been in an emergency situation or gotten a scare,” explained retired licensed psychologist Sam Hopkins of Jacksonville. “There certainly is such a thing as seeing too much.”
Events like a car accident or “seeing a tornado come at you … just anything that can create a great terror,” can trigger PTSD, because a person “feels a great threat, and that reaction is overwhelming – there's a price people pay when they see too much tragedy or death,” he said.
June is PTSD Awareness Month, and today is national PTSD Screening Day. Free, anonymous screenings available through the website PTSDScreening.org for individuals seeking to identify whether their symptoms are consistent with those of PTSD.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, PTSD symptoms “typically start within three months of a traumatic event,” although in a small number of cases, these may not appear until years later.
Symptoms can come and go, and “are generally grouped into three types: Intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety of emotional arousal.”
“In World War I, it was known as shell-shock, and as combat fatigue in World War II,” Hopkins said, explaining PTSD. “During the Vietnam War, it (became known as) a psychiatric trauma, and while PTSD is certainly not synonymous with vets, it is identified with vets because of their war experiences.”
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that PTSD can develop at any age, but research reveals that the median age of onset is 23 years, and that 3.5 percent of the national population ages 18 and older are affected in a given year.
“PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm,” and the one who develops the disorder “may have been the one harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers,” according to NIMH.
While the it was first brought to public attention “in relation to war veterans … (PTSD) can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, (vehicular) accidents … plane crashes, bombings or natural disasters,” NIMH states.
The odds of dealing with PTSD may seem insurmountable, but Hopkins reassures that “one can overcome” the disorder through medication and/or counseling.
Medications can help soften the effects of PTSD “and keep it from being so severe. The memory can fade and we can process the emotional side of events (to a point where) we are able to get over bad events with the passage of time,” he said.
Counseling gives a person the tools needed to heal.
“One of the things that has helped veterans (dealing with PTSD) has been talking to other veterans with a similar experience ~ they help give (each other) words they might not have had before (to express what they're going through) … it's shop talk, where they bond over common experiences.”
It also allows that person a chance “to open up to another person,” allowing a process similar to the grieving process to take place, thus creating an opportunity for his or her healing, he said.
“When people are wounded psychologically, they sometimes withdraw into themselves (slowing down that healing process,” he said.
Locally, individuals can contact the Anderson-Cherokee Counties Enrichment Services, which provides counseling service, behavioral therapy and short-term therapy for individuals with brain and behavioral disorders.
While PTSD may not be on the current list of approved diagnoses set forth by the State of Texas, “some of the symptoms – like depression and anxiety features – are things we do treat, said ACCESS Chief Executive Director Ted Debbs.
“No matter what may be the cause, it's one of those things that we're here for – a person can come in and we can assess (their situation), and even if they're not eligible for (ACCESS programs), we will try to help – we want to be that front door (because) it's a complicated system. We want to be there for anybody who needs help by showing them where they can go,” he said.
However, “crisis work supersedes” the state-approved diagnostics, so “we can provide for someone no matter what possible diagnostic or problem may be in a crisis situation,” Debbs said.
The Jacksonville ACCESS Clinic, which can be reached at 903-586-5507, is located at 5656 N. Jackson, while the Palestine clinic is at 3220 S. Loop 256. The Palestine facility can be reached at 903-723-6136.
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