Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Sometimes, out of tragedy, comes awareness
On Wednesday, April 2, the Fort Hood Army base in Texas was rocked by a shooting that left four dead and 16 wounded. Since then, military officials revealed that the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, was being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a mental illness that has become associated with veterans of war.
PTSD is a debilitating mental disorder that can affect people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as abuse, assault, disasters, accidents, or wartime. Those suffering from PTSD may experience a wide range of symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, or panic attacks. They may seem irritable and explosive, or detached and avoidant. Here are some more facts about PTSD:
• We don’t know exactly who will develop PTSD. After a traumatic event, it is common to develop an acute stress reaction, but only a small percentage will go on to develop PTSD. Various factors such as genetics and a history of prior trauma seem to play a role. A traumatic brain injury, such as those experienced in battle when soldiers are exposed to explosive devices, is likely to increase the risk of developing PTSD.
• PTSD affects men and women, children and adults. Although women are slightly more likely to suffer from PTSD, men are susceptible too. Similarly, PTSD can affect people of all ages. Children may not display classic symptoms of PTSD, but instead may show regression in behavior or other behavioral problems.
• People with PTSD may self-medicate. What looks like a drug or alcohol problem on the outside may stem from deeper seeded issues. People with mental illnesses like PTSD often self-medicate with alcohol or prescription or street drugs. PTSD is also known to have a high degree of correlation with other mental illnesses (co-morbidity), such as major depression and anxiety disorders.
• PTSD, like all mental illnesses, is treatable. There is often a misconception that treatment doesn’t work; on the contrary, between 70% and 90% of individuals that receive treatment for mental illness have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of therapy and medication.
Jonathan Chasen, MD, is an Associate Medical Director at Natchaug Hospital, a Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network affiliate and Eastern Connecticut’s leading provider of intensive behavioral health and substance abuse treatment. This column should not replace the advice of your provider. To watch a video on post-traumatic stress disorder, visit www.natchaug.org.