Raising awareness for PTSD

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BELOIT - Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses may have begun in 1980, but the disorder has been around for much longer.

Community Health Systems Inc., which runs the Beloit Area Community Health Center (BACHC), is shedding light on the disorder in honor of June being PSTD Awareness Month and June 27 being National PTSD Awareness Day.

"It isn't a new concept," said Nathan Putnam, BACHC behavioral health therapist. "PTSD has been around since conflict has existed, even though we didn't have the terminology."

Experiencing traumatic events is so common that nearly three-fourths of Americans (70%) will likely go through one in their lifetime, according to the Sidran Institute. Up to 20% of those individuals who have experienced these events will go on develop PTSD.

Traumatic events that lead to developing PTSD may include serving in combat, surviving assault or other forms of violence, or experiencing the loss of a loved one, abuse, neglect, a natural disaster or a life-altering illness or accident.

Putnam said many of the symptoms of PTSD are similar to anxiety, such as sleeping more or less than normal, having bad dreams, being on edge, having difficulty working or socializing, feeling on edge or having a significant startle response. He said the biggest difference is how long the symptoms last.

For example, he said if two people get into a major accident where both walk away physically alright, one person may be able to move on after a few days while the other may get sick just thinking about cars and not be able to put their vehicle in drive for weeks. He said many people may have adverse responses to trauma, but when that response is lasting for longer than a month it might be PTSD.

"If it's having a significant impact on a person's way of life, then it could be PTSD," Putnam said.

In addition to medications, Putnam said there are four common ways to treat PTSD. According to the American Psychiatric Association, this includes cognitive processing therapy, which helps patients challenge unhelpful beliefs associated with the trauma; prolonged exposure, which helps patients learn that trauma-related memories and cues aren't dangerous and don't need to avoided; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which uses bilateral stimulation to reduce the vividness and emotion associated with traumatic memories; and somatic experiencing, a new method created by Dr. Peter Levine that helps patients overcome the symptoms of PTSD without having to actually talk about the memories themselves.

As a veteran himself, Putnam appreciates how the conversation surrounding PTSD has shifted from the stigmas that used to plague conversations about mental health. In conflicts and wars before the early-2000s, these stigmas led to soldiers being classified has having "shell shock" or "battle fatigue," and then they would be called weak and be told to "get over it."

Since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began, Putnam said there's been increased attention given to soldiers. This in turn led to more attention (and resources) being dedicated to studying PTSD, which can effect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event.

"A lot of doctors have been passionate about PTSD before Iraq and Afghanistan, but since then there's been more funding and attention dedicated to this issue," Putnam said.

He's thankful that people are no longer considered weak for seeking therapy. In fact, he said many of the Vietnam veterans are finally receiving the help they need 40 years later.

He asks those who may know a loved one suffering from PTSD to be accepting and open-minded while keeping their boundaries in mind.

"Getting help isn't a weakness. It's a strength," Putnam said. "When some people finally get to that point where they seek help, it's often the biggest hurdle."

For more information or to schedule an appointment at BACHC, call 608-313-3372. Other resources include: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), which provides 24-hour support for people in distress or a crisis, as well as resources for you or your loved ones; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline (1-800-662-4357), which can help locate mental health facilities in the area; Boys Town National Hotline (800-448-3000), which is a resource for both adolescents and parents to learn more about coping with PTSD and healing as a family; and the Crisis Text Line (Text CONNECT to 741741), a support service that provides access to trained crisis counselors via text message.

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