PTSD Awareness Day

June 27, 2019 is PTSD Awareness Day

Raising Awareness for PTSD

In an interview with 60 Minutes news Correspondent Bill Whitaker, Sgt. First Class John Zehring described his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as being, “…like having a monster on your back that controls your entire life.” 

Sgt. Zehring spent 15 months in the eastern province of Afghanistan fighting off daily attacks from the Taliban. Sgt. Zehring was exposed to what medical professionals might call complex PTSD, which is prolonged and/or repeated exposure to trauma. However, Sgt. Zehring’s self-described monster doesn’t come in a one size fits all, simple PTSD can arise after just a single traumatic experience. 

Simple and Complex PTSD 

Symptoms associated with having simple PTSD from a singular event usually include feelings of fear and helplessness, and a combination of behaviors that involve avoidance, confusion, and shock. Those with complex PTSD will have similar symptoms but might also have persistent changes in personality, an inability to relate to others, a loss of identity, and difficulty with decision-making. Some individuals might not display these symptoms, but may have other clinical symptoms such as anxiety and depression, and are easily prone to substance-abuse. 

Whether simple or complex, PTSD is caused by traumas that can range from a loss, a near death experience, injury, sexual assault, abuse, neglect, and violence. More importantly, these monsters aren’t only carried on the backs of our military and veterans. All types of people across all ages, including children, can be affected by PTSD. 

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence from studies reporting that women are also twice as likely to develop PTSD than men, despite having generally fewer overall traumas. Sexual abuse and violence were the major causes for PTSD among a majority of women, usually stemming from childhood traumas. Nevertheless, men, women and children all suffer from this sometimes paralyzing mental health condition. 

PTSD Therapies 

On a brighter note, there is a growing amount of awareness being raised around the subject of mental health. For instance, the #TimeToChange campaign is a movement that started in England in 2007 as an effort to end discrimination around mental health. They report that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. They advocate that even though most will say they’re fine, asking whether someone is okay, twice, can go along way. Having strong social networks is one of the key ways to help those with mental health problems, and decrease the stigma around having them. 

Alongside a strong social network, there is a growing number of therapies that help treat the symptoms of PTSD. The most common treatments include Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE). CPT will teach you new ways to think about your trauma by evaluating the facts and how they align with your thoughts, so you can ultimately decide to take on a new approach. PE will gradually teach you to confront your trauma-related memories, feelings and triggers you may have been avoiding, in an effort to help you face your fears and regain control of your life. 

There are also other more recent therapies that include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET). EMDR is where you would recall a disturbing event while a therapist guides you to shift your thoughts to more pleasant ones, in an effort to make the event less debilitating. NET is usually done in a group setting where you would share your life story so that traumatic, as well as positive, events are told in chronological order, and bad experience(s) become less fragmented, more refined and understood in a coherent autobiographical story. 

An Experimental Treatment for the Military and Veterans

In a whirlwind of media, there is an ongoing experimental treatment being funded by the US military, especially granted to those war veterans suffering from PTSD. Sgt. Zehring and other combat veterans, appear to be taking their lives back from these monsters that have so long controlled their civilian lives. The new therapy is called Stellate Ganglion Block (STG), and has been used for nearly a century as an anesthetic during low risk pain procedures. STG is an injection to a bundle of nerves in the neck called the stellate ganglion. These nerves block signals to certain sympathetic regions in the brain (i.e. amygdala), which might otherwise trigger traumatic memories. The injection serves as a kind of reboot of the brain, allowing many to go back to their pre-trauma state. It has been reported to work as soon as 30 minutes and has been said to last for years.

There is hope on the horizon for those suffering from PTSD and mental illness, a growing community, and raised awareness around mental health conditions. Different movements and treatments are gaining traction, but we must continue listening, learning and helping those in need. 

If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the following links:
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp
https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/index

Contributing Blog Writer Marpessa Rietbergen is a HealthLynked provider administrator.

References:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sgb-a-possible-breakthrough-treatment-for-ptsd-60-minutes-2019-06-16/
https://honorone.org/blogs/the-honor-one-blog/can-a-single-injection-conquer-ptsd-the-army-wants-to-find-out
https://www.voa.org/understanding-ptsd
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/avoidance.asp
https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects
https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us
https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1326959.pdf
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/cognitive_processing.asp
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/prolonged_exposure.asp
https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/emdr-what-is-it#1
https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/narrative-exposure-therapy
https://www.anxiety.org/stellate-ganglion-block-sgb-for-ptsd-research-update

The Often Misunderstood Diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a condition that many veterans and non-veterans alike suffer; PTSD can occur when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This condition wasn’t always understood properly by the medical or military community, and Department of Defense press releases often point to earlier attempts to identify PTSD symptoms in the wake of service in World War 2, Vietnam, and other conflicts.

PTSD Awareness Day is observed today, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

The History of PTSD Awareness Day

In 2010, Senator Kent Conrad pushed to get official recognition of PTSD via a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq.

Staff Sergeant Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD; Biel committed suicide after his return from duty to his home state. SSgt. Biel’s birthday, June 27, was selected as the official PTSD Awareness Day, now observed every year.

How Do People Observe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day?

Much of what is done to observe PTSD Awareness Day involves encouraging open talk about PTSD, its’ causes, symptoms, and most important of all, getting help for the condition. When today, PTSD is often misunderstood by those lacking firsthand experience with the condition or those who suffer from it. PTSD Awareness Day is designed to help change that.

The Department of Defense publishes circulars, articles, and other materials to help educate and inform military members and their families about the condition. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site has several pages dedicated to PTSD, and when military members retiring or separating from the service fill out VA claim forms for service-connected injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, there is an option to be evaluated for PTSD as a part of the VA claims process.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-IV, says PTSD can develop through a range of exposures to death or injury: direct personal involvement, witnessing it or, if it concerns someone close, just learning about it.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of anxiety that can happen after experiencing or witnessing actual or near death, serious injury, war-related violence, terrorism or sexual violence.  While most people typically connect this disorder to military veterans or refugees, it can happen to anyone.

Almost no other psychiatric diagnosis has generated as much controversy.  The diagnosis is almost four decades old.  PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and people can be affected by PTSD even when they were not directly part of the traumatic event.

The specific nature of the trauma can and does vary greatly. Experts are quick to point out, while combat and combat-related military service can be incredibly challenging, and while witnessing or being a victim of an event that rips the fabric of daily life can be traumatic, not everyone responds the same way. Some may develop symptoms of PTSD, while others may be unaffected.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: How Widespread Is It?

Some sources estimate that as many as 70% of all Americans have experienced a traumatic event sufficient to cause PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. That does not mean that all 70% of Americans WILL suffer from PTSD. Using these statistics, some 224 million Americans have experienced a traumatic event. Of that number, some 20% will develop PTSD symptoms, roughly 44 million people.

Of that 44 million, an estimated eight percent experience active PTSD symptoms at any one time. An estimated 50% of all mental health patients are also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD: Often Misunderstood and Misidentified

“Shell shock” and “combat shock” were earlier attempts to define and understand the symptoms of PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder was often stigmatized in popular culture after the Vietnam conflict, and many films and television shows featured antagonists or unsympathetic characters suffering from “Vietnam flashbacks” or other issues.

The misunderstanding of PTSD slowly began to change in 1980 when it was recognized as a specific condition with identifiable symptoms. It was then the disorder was listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This manual is a diagnostic tool for mental health professionals and paraprofessional workers in the healthcare field and is considered a definitive reference. The addition of PTSD to the DSM was a highly significant development.

Today, the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are better understood, treatable, and recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a service-connected condition. PTSD is not exclusive to veterans or currently serving members of the United States military, but a portion of those who serve are definitely at risk for PTSD.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Some PTSD symptoms may seem vague and non-specific, others are more readily identified specifically as evidence of PTSD. In this context “non-specific” means that the symptoms may be related to other mental health issues and not specifically limited to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the same way, more “specific” symptoms may be manifest outside PTSD, but when looking for specific signifiers, these issues are common “red flags” that indicate PTSD may be the cause of the suffering rather than a different condition. This is often circumstantial, and there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis for the condition.

Suicidal thoughts or self-destructive acts are often a result of PTSD or related symptoms. Anyone experiencing thoughts or urges to self-harm should seek immediate care to prevent the condition from getting worse in the short-term. (See below)

That said, more non-specific symptoms include varying degrees of irritability, depression, and suicidal feelings. More specific problems-especially where veterans and currently serving military members are concerned-include something known as “hypervigilance” or “hyperarousal”.

Other symptoms include repeatedly experiencing the traumatic event(s) in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, persistent memories of the event(s), and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event(s).

These symptoms vary in intensity depending on the individual and are not ‘standardized”. They may come and go, or they may be persistent over a span of time. Sometimes PTSD sufferers can be high-functioning, other times they may be more debilitated by the condition.

Get Treatment For PTSD

Those who experience symptoms of PTSD or PTSD-like issues should seek help immediately. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, private care providers, counselors, and therapists can all be helpful in establishing an initial care regimen or refer those suffering from PTSD to a qualified care provider.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has more information on help for PTSD on its’ official site including help finding a therapist.

Those experiencing suicidal feelings or self-destructive urges should get help immediately. The Suicide Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255) has a specific resource for veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Veterans’ Crisis Hotline confidential chat resource.

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Adapted from https://militarybenefits.info/ptsd-awareness-day/

Forgiveness Fills Life with Research Proven Health Benefits

Maybe you are considering forgiveness for yourself or others, but you’re not sure it’s worth the emotional effort. You might prefer to ignore the painful memories, stuff it down and keep going about your daily affairs. You will just deal with it later, right?

To forgive, whether yourself or others, and to be forgiven, brings relief beyond just the emotional or even spiritual, if you at a person of faith.  Today is Forgiveness Day – one of many observed throughout the year.  The original was established as International Forgiveness Day in response to a call to set aside old differences made by Desmond Tutu.  There is also Global Forgiveness Day next Saturday, and National Forgiveness Day in October.  All have one purpose – to encourage us to set things right; and there are great health benefits to doing so!

Whether it’s a bout with your boss, a feud with a family member or friend, or a spat with your spouse, unresolved conflict can go deeper than you may realize—it may be affecting your physical health. Not forgiving has its costs. When we harbor grudges and grievances, we retain everything that goes with them: anxiety, irritability, anger, and depression.  We may suffer insomnia, experience weight gain or loss, endure depletion of trust in ourselves and others, get caught up in numbing addictions and get stuck in a nerve fraying fight-or-flight mode.

The list is long and disabling.  The good news: Studies have found the act of forgiveness can pay huge dividends for your health, And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.

What are the health benefits of forgiveness?

In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University, researchers sought to prove what many might already feel is common sense. They wrote, “Chronic unforgiveness causes stress. Every time people think of their transgressor, their body responds. Decreasing your unforgiveness cuts down your health risk. Now, if you can forgive, that can actually strengthen your immune system.” [1]

Dr. Bernie Siegel, author, surgeon and retired medical professor at Yale University, said, “I have collected 57 extremely well-documented so-called cancer miracles. At a certain particular moment in time, they decided that the anger and the depression were probably not the best way to go, since they had such little time left.

And so, they went from that to being loving, caring, no longer angry, no longer depressed, and able to talk to the people they loved. These 57 people had the same pattern. They gave up—totally—their anger, and they gave up—totally—their depression, by specifically a decision to do so. And at that point, the tumors started to shrink.” [2]

Medical researchers have become increasingly interested in studying the effects of forgiveness as a healing process. Evidence is mounting:  holding onto painful memories and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:

  1. Lower blood pressure

When we no longer feel anxiety or anger because of past grievances, our heart rate evens out and our blood pressure drops. This normalizes many processes in the body and brings us our heart and circulatory system into stability.

  1. Stress reduction

Forgiveness eases stress because we no longer recycle thoughts (both consciously and subconsciously) that cause psychic stress to arise. By offering our burdens for healing, we learn how to leave irritation and stress behind.

  1.  Less hostility

By its very nature, forgiveness asks us to let go of hostility toward ourselves and others.  Spontaneous hostile behavior, like road rage and picking a fight for no reason, diminishes as our commitment to forgiveness goes up.

  1. Better anger-management skills

With fewer and fewer burdens from the past weighing us down, we have more self-control when we do get angry. We’ll be better able to take some breaths, count to ten, take a time-out or get some exercise—rather than strike out or lash out in anger.

  1. Lower heart rate

Forgiveness relaxes our hearts –  pain will ease out of our system. Our hearts calm down, and our heart rate decreases as a result.

  1. Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse

This is a big one – possibly the biggest and best reason to jump into a forgiveness practice without delay. Substance abuse is a mask for underlying pain. Forgiveness helps release that pain and find the gifts in our situation instead.

  1. Fewer depression symptoms

Similar to lowering substance abuse, this is a crucial issue with retained anguish. Depression is debilitating and can lead to suicide. On the other hand, forgiveness gives us healing and can leave room to replace depression with a sense of purpose and compassion.

  1. Fewer anxiety symptoms

Almost everyone needs to forgive him or herself as well as others. Anxiety often arises when we fear we’ve done something wrong. Our guilty conscience causes tension at a deep level. Forgiveness helps us to love ourselves deeply, relieving inner pain.

  1. Reduction in chronic pain

Physical pain often has psychological underpinnings. When we allow a profound shift to happen with forgiveness, we heal ourselves on both psychological and physical levels. Thus, chronic pain can be reversed, and we can be restored to best health.

  1. More friendships

When we’re no longer holding grudges, we can get a lot closer to friends and family. Old relationships have a chance to change and grow, and new relationships can enter—all because we made room for them with forgiveness.

  1. Healthier relationships

When we make forgiveness a regular part of our emotional practice, we start to notice all of our relationships begin to blossom. There’s far less drama to deal with, and that’s a huge bonus.

  1. Improved psychological well-being

A good life, full of quality relationships, service to others and fun, is something that most of us hope for without ever knowing how to create it.  By releasing our grievances, we become more harmonious on all levels. Nightmares recede, and exciting new life visions become commonplace. We feel calmer, happier and ready to give compassion and love to the world.

  1. Enhanced immune function

Forgiveness lowers cortisol – a steroid hormone produced in response to stress that causes weight gain – and boosts immune function. You’ll feel more relaxed and centered, and you won’t get sick as easily once you’ve let go for good through forgiveness.

Looking at the list, it’s easy to see that if you had lower stress, hostility, blood pressure and chronic pain, you’d be far healthier for it. Also, if you had better relationships, improved psychological well-being and greater emotional connection, you could be living a life of joy and purpose.

Can You Learn to Be More Forgiving?

Now, look at this list below to see if you would enjoy improvements in any of these areas of your life:

  • Your Physical Health
  • Relationships with Loved Ones (Lovers, Spouse, Exes, and Friends)
  • Family Issues with Parents, Siblings and Children
  • Trauma from Childhood
  • Impacts of Racism, Sexism and Other “Isms”
  • Money Worries
  • Sexual Issues
  • Blocked Creativity

Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether deserved or not. As you release anger, resentment and hostility, you make room for empathy, compassion and sometimes even affection for the person who wronged you.

Studies have found some people are just naturally more forgiving. Consequently, they tend to be more satisfied with their lives and to have less depression, anxiety, stress, anger and hostility. People who hang on to grudges, however, are more likely to experience severe depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other health issues described earlier. But that doesn’t mean they can’t train themselves to act in healthier ways. 62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, according to a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute.

Making Forgiveness Part of Your Life

Forgiveness is a choice.  You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.  The following steps can help you develop a more forgiving attitude—and benefit from better emotional and physical health.

Reflect and remember.

That includes the events themselves, and also how you reacted, how you felt, and how the anger and hurt have affected you since.

Empathize with the other person.

For instance, if your spouse grew up in an alcoholic family, then anger when you have too much to drink might be understandable.

Forgive deeply.

Simply forgiving someone because you think you have no other alternative or because you think your faith requires it may be enough to bring some healing, but one study found people whose forgiveness came in part from understanding no one is perfect were able to resume a normal relationship with the other person.  This was true even if that person never apologized. Those who only forgave in an effort to salvage the relationship typically wound up with a worse relationship.

Let go of expectations.

An apology may not change your relationship with the other person or elicit an apology from them. If you don’t expect either, you won’t be disappointed.

Decide to forgive.

Once you make that choice, seal it with an action. If you don’t feel you can talk to the person who wronged you, write about your forgiveness in a journal or even talk about it with someone else in your life whom you trust and can be supportive.

Forgive yourself.

The act of forgiving includes forgiving yourself. Failings of the past are not a reflection of your worth.

If you are suffering any of the debilitating effects of unforgiveness, it is a great day to relieve yourself and others of the tremendous burden of holding on to hurt.  And if you need a professional to speak with about any of the physical effects you are feeling, find them in HealthLynked.

In our novel HealthCare ecosystem, we are connecting physicians and patients in unique ways.  Lower the stress and confusion of seeing a provider and sharing relevant health information through HealthLynked.

Ready to get Lynked?  Go to HealthLynked.com to register for free!


Definitions

Immune response: How your immune system recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, toxins and other harmful substances. A response can include anything from coughing and sneezing to an increase in white blood cells, which attack foreign substances.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A disorder in which your “fight or flight,” or stress, response stays switched on, even when you have nothing to flee or battle. The disorder usually develops after an emotional or physical trauma, such as a mugging, physical abuse or a natural disaster. Symptoms include nightmares, insomnia, angry outbursts, emotional numbness, and physical and emotional tension.

Sources:

[1] Worthington, Everett & Witvliet, Charlotte & Pietrini, Pietro & J Miller, Andrea. (2007). Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being: A Review of Evidence for Emotional Versus Decisional Forgiveness, Dispositional Forgivingness, and Reduced Unforgiveness. Journal of behavioral medicine. 30. 291-302. 10.1007/s10865-007-9105-8.

[2]Meisner-Morton, Carole J.  Entering Your Own Heart: A Guide to Developing Self Love, Inner Peace and Happiness.  Balboa Press. 2015.

[3] HopkinsMedicine.org

[4] WisdomTimes.com