Today, June 27th, is National PTSD awareness day, and June is National PTSD awareness month. It was created by Senate Resolution 455 in 2010 to raise awareness of the common ailment affecting many soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that can affect anyone who goes through a traumatic experience, be it combat, a terrible accident, terror attack, or consistent abuse. According to Dr. Todd Essig, Supervising Psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute, Clinical Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at New York Medical College and a contributing writer at Forbes magazine, about 20% of people who endure a traumatic experience develop some form of PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 7.8% of all Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetime. While estimates for veterans are higher (11-20%), it showed that 85% of PTSD cases in America resulted from an event outside military service. Yet despite being somewhat common, mental illness resulting from trauma, especially when it occurs in otherwise healthy people, has a terrible reputation, partially due to a lack of understanding in the general population, and negative publicity in the past.
As Dr. Essig explains, PTSD is a shock to the mind so great, it damages “the brain's capacity to tell stories. As a result, the traumatic event is relived rather than narrativized.” Continuing, Dr. Essig explains that “trauma is an event that overwhelms the brain's capacity for narrative. It leaves you over-stimulated and out-of-control, reacting in an aisle at the Wal-Mart as though you were once again walking the rifle-torn streets of Fallujah…” Dr. Essig compares the experience of PTSD to sometimes feel like a traumatic Groundhog Day-repeating ad infinitum. It’s not necessarily the result of some a priori condition (though that can contribute to PTSD development or its severity) as some early theorists claimed, it is simply being bowled over by the experience.
Most of the negative reputation of PTSD has resulted from bad press, beginning over a century ago, which saw those broken by combat as weak or affected by mental illness as a liability to society. Today, even though PTSD is finally recognized as an actual disorder, it remains stigmatized and difficult to treat. Few people with PTSD seek out the help they need, because they fear the humiliation of suffering from a disorder that is still taboo in many circles. In addition, and partially as a result, they are more prone to isolation, addiction and suicide.
With the increase in PTSD cases coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and due to the rise of international terrorism, more research is being done to understand PTSD. Various veterans groups and mental health awareness organizations are also intensifying their efforts to combat the stigma associated with PTSD and the many misconceptions about what it is, how it occurs and how it can be treated. Doctors like Todd Essig provide important research and educational efforts on behalf of those suffering with PTSD. In 1989, a congressional mandate directed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to set up a National Center for PTSD that has information for professionals, affected individuals, and their friends, families and employers.
The Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization, aims to raise awareness and help find treatment for veterans suffering. A guideline from Wounded Warrior Project on helping a loved one deal with PTSD is available here. American Dream U, launched by entrepreneur Phil Randazzo, provides education and opportunities to ease the transition for veterans who would like to become entrepreneurs, including information, counseling and assistance for veterans with PTSD, and their employers or partners.
PTSFaces is a global platform that brings awareness to the treatment and the treatments options for PTSD veterans. It was created by Captain Cherrissa Jackson, a veteran who served four deployments and has survived PTSD. As a legal nurse and PTSD awareness advocate, she speaks publicly on treatment, management, and how friends and family can help a loved one with PTSD. She is available for public booking and private counsel via her website here.