Have you, or someone you know experienced a traumatic event? Chances are the answer is yes. Most people exposed to a traumatic event will not go on to have long-term negative emotions or symptoms related to the traumatic event, but some individuals will. How much do you know about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
In 2010, the United States Senate designated June 27th as National PTSD Awareness Day. In addition, The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder has designated June as PTSD awareness month. Although PTSD awareness is an everyday effort for many individuals and organizations, every June there are highlighted events and efforts to draw attention to what PTSD is and how it can be treated.
Briefly, PTSD is a clinical disorder than can result from exposure to a traumatic event in which fear and other negative emotions do not diminish over time. Individuals with PTSD may feel as though they are reliving the event either through bad memories or nightmares. They may try to avoid memories or situations that remind them of the event. They may experience a persistent negative emotional state or feel detached from others. They may also feel keyed up or have sleep problems.
Whether you are part of the public or professional sector, there are an abundance of resources available to help educate you about PTSD. Although this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all the resources available, my goal is to highlight several that I have found to be helpful. Many of the listed websites/organizations offer resources for both professionals and the general public.
The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, continually promotes public awareness and understanding of PTSD. They have a variety of tools and resources available to you throughout the year. In addition, they also have promotional materials that focus on PTSD Awareness month. They have flyers and posters you can print and post, public service announcements, and online learning courses. They have information for the general public as well as clinician focused information. You can read more about what PTSD is and about PTSD Awareness month at the National Center for PTSD: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/about/ptsd-awareness/what_is_awareness_month.asp.
One resource available through the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for learning more about PTSD is called About Face (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace/). You can view video clips of Veterans who have shared their stories and experiences seeking help. Veterans discuss how they knew they had PTSD, when they knew they needed help, and what treatment was like for them. They also share personal advice. These videos can be helpful for individuals who are experiencing symptoms themselves and can also be a great clinical resource for providers to share with clients.
Make the Connection (http://maketheconnection.net/) is a public awareness campaign by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans share their personal stories with the goal of helping connect veterans and friends and family with information and resources. You can customize your search to find stories that are most relevant to you to include watching videos of Veterans with PTSD describing their symptoms and how they sought help. You can select videos based off of signs and symptoms (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares) or based off an actual disorder (e.g., PTSD). The Make the Connection website also has resources and support to include self-assessments and VA Information and Resources.
Another resource is the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE). DCoE’s mission is to ensure that the Department of Defense meets the needs of military service members, communities, and families by overseeing and facilitating various programs for psychological health and Traumatic Brain Injury. They have online information regarding PTSD treatment options and tips for treating mTBI and PTSD. You are encouraged to visit their website for additional information (http://www.dcoe.health.mil).
Two resources I recommend specifically for providers are: the Center for Deployment Psychology and the VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Post-Traumatic Stress.
Those of us here at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) are working diligently to provide up-to-date trainings to military and civilian behavioral health professionals on how to assess and treat military personnel and family members who may be dealing with PTSD. We have a variety of online courses (http://deploymentpsych.org/training/online-courses) for professionals to include, Epidemiology of PTSD in Military Personnel and Veterans: Working with Service Members and Veterans with PTSD as well as online overviews of Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy. In addition to online courses, we offer workshops on the etiology, assessment and treatment of PTSD. Please refer to our website (https://deploymentpsych.org/training/training-catalog) for a listing of all available and upcoming trainings.
Providers are also encouraged to read and be familiar with the VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Post-Traumatic Stress. The DoD and VA collaborated to develop the evidence-based Clinical Practice Guideline (http://www.healthquality.va.gov/Post_Traumatic_Stress_Disorder_PTSD.asp) to assist health professionals with the management of Post-Traumatic Stress. The guideline provides clear and comprehensive evidence based recommendations for managing Acute Stress Reaction and PTSD.
It is important to point out that PTSD is not just a military issue. Per the National Center for PTSD (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/how-common-is-ptsd.asp), about 7-8% of all Americans will have PTSD at some point in their lifetime, and only a small portion of that population has been exposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, although there is not a population-based epidemiological study to determine the prevalence rates of PTSD in children, we know that many children are also exposed to traumatic events and may experience PTSD.
A great resource for child traumatic stress is the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Their mission is to improve the standard of care and access to services for traumatized children, their families, and communities. You can find a variety of resources for children and their families and communities on their website (http://www.nctsn.org/)
It is not too late this month to make a difference. You can still raise awareness by printing/posting flyers about PTSD awareness, writing an article for a local newspaper or newsletter, or simply by taking time to discuss this very important topic with friends, co-workers, or others in your community. I encourage everyone to take time this month to think about their commonly held beliefs regarding PTSD. In addition, this is a good time to ask yourself, “What am I doing to increase PTSD awareness?” and “How can I get more involved in making PTSD Awareness prominent throughout the year?” As you think through these questions, please feel free to share your thoughts on our blog.
Dr. Lisa French is the Assistant Director of Military Training Programs at the Center for Deployment Psychology. She is a subject matter expert on military psychology and the assessment and treatment of PTSD and depression.