With our ongoing military presence in the Middle East, most Americans realize that returning vets often are not the same person they were before deployment. Chances are that if they were sent to active combat zones, they may be suffering from the after effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can range from elevated anxiety levels all the way to severe debilitation or even as a contributing factor in suicides or homicides. PTSD, though more commonly linked with combat duty, can still affect those who work in a first-responder role, as they are often witness to devastating accidents, volatile and combative tempers and high-stress environments, sometimes so intense that the balance between life and death is literally held in their very hands. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is apparent in nearly 8% of Americans.

With this statistic in mind, even for those who thrive in their fast-paced and often critical care role. Doctors, surgeons, and even nurses can still find themselves vulnerable to the effects of PTSD. Often times they suppress the memories of especially horrifying medical emergencies in order to keep their minds functional so they can perform their duties. Yet, despite their medical training experience, this condition has been known to trigger when medical experts are performing common practices, such as CPR.

Symptoms of PTSD

Common symptoms can include shaking, nausea and difficulty breathing. If severe enough, the repressed memory can bring on a full-fledged flashback where the victim’s thoughts are suddenly transported back to the very event that they attempted to suppress. A flashback causes the victim to re-experience the sights, smells, and the stress of the situation as if it were occurring in real time.

Let’s look at how PTSD affects the body and also what treatment options are available:

PTSD and the Brain

By studying the effects of stress and fear upon the brain, scientists believe that a human’s reaction to specific events can be determined by levels of various proteins, hormone levels, and the personality of the person affected. For example, by looking at the extinct memories stored in the prefrontal cortex, it determines how well a person is able to deal with fear and stress, this part of the brain involves our decision-making processes, our judgments and problem-solving. The Amygdala, just below the prefrontal cortex also plays a role in the effects of PTSD as it controls emotion, learning and memory. Sometimes during an especially stressful event, the brain is flooded with GRP (gastrin-releasing peptides) which assists in controlling the amount of fear incurred upon the individual. An individual with insufficient levels of GRP could be more susceptible to PTSD.

How to Help Someone with PTSD

Studies have shown that one out of every three returning soldiers will suffer from PSTD, yet less than 40% of these individuals suffering from the condition will seek help. Despite the cause of PTSD, it is important for individuals suffering from the condition to know that there are many support options available. However, it is important to understand that many people with PTSD may distance themselves from the world, as well as their friends and family. An individual should never be forced into the recovery process, but when they are ready, here are a few tips to make the recovery process as successful as possible.

  • Do Not Pressure Them – Many people suffering from PTSD will experience tremendous setbacks when talking about their traumatic experiences. It is vital to let these individuals know that you are available to speak with them, but only when they are ready to do so.
  • Get Their Mind Off Of The Disorder – Simply including these individuals in your day-to-day plans can greatly reduce the effects of PTSD. Attending classes, events, or even dinners can help get their minds off of the traumatic experiences they have experienced.
  • Be Patient – The road to PTSD recovery can be a long, rigorous road. It is important to stay positive every step of the way.
  • Learn About The Disorder – The more you know about PTSD, the better off the recovery process will be. Understanding the effects and symptoms of an outburst, as well as knowing basic CPR and First Aid practices in order to treat an individual who may have hurt themselves can pave the way to recovery for an individual.

Here are a few Peer Support Groups that the United States Department of Veteran Affairs has provided.

  • Sidran Institute Help Desk Help Desk locates support groups for people who have experienced trauma. Sidran does not offer clinical care or counseling services, but can help you locate care or support.

PTSD Treatment Options

Often times speaking with a mental health counselor can be that first step back to feeling healthier again. Therapy can include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can assist you with coping techniques when experiences certain feelings. This can include ways to redirect harmful thoughts to more productive ideas. Exposure Therapy is when a therapist gently guides the patient back into the traumatic experience to work through their fears and feelings as they re-experience the raw emotions. If necessary, often times medications can be prescribed to help manage the individual through some of the symptoms as well as minimizing relapses.

As dire and terrifying of a condition like PTSD can be, there are some treatment options and support groups available to help someone suffering from the disorder – a chance to put the past behind them and begin to live their life anew