Sunday, November 10, 2019

Veteran's Day and PTSD

This week the focus is on mental health.

Happy Veteran’s Day and thank you to all who are now  serving or have ever served our country. I’m remembering my father who was  Commander in  the US Navy and worked in Intelligence. He’s in the above photo at the top left (the bald guy). 

In my current work I have the honor of working with veterans. In Cincinnati I worked at the VA in psychiatry as an outpatient psychiatry resident, and in Reno I cover inpatient service for vets hospitalized for mental health reasons.

The suicide statistics for veterans are deeply troubling. While studies over the past years have differed somewhat in what was reported, since 2008 there have been at least 6000 veterans every year who have taken their own life. That means that on average over 16 veterans, people who loyally served our country, take their life every day. (See for the full report).

In my own work I’ve seen PTSD as a contributor to the suicidal thoughts and other mental health difficulties that vets and many other people who have been through traumatic events experience. So on this Veteran’s day, in addition to giving thanks for service and sacrifice, here is a checklist of 20 problems that people can have in response to stressful experiences (from Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD by Resick et al). As you look over the list think about how often you have been experienced the following in the past month:
  1. Repeated, disturbing and unwanted memories of the stressful experience
  2. Repeated, disturbing dreams of the stressful experience.
  3. Suddenly feeling or acting as if the stressful experience were actually happening again.
  4. Feeling very upset when something reminded you of the stressful experience.
  5. Having strong physical reactions when something remined you of the stressful experience.
  6. Avoiding memories, thoughts, or feelings related to the stressful experience.
  7. Avoiding external reminders of the stressful experience.
  8. Trouble remembering important parts of the stressful experience.
  9. Having strong negative beliefs about yourself, other people, or the world.
  10. Blaming yourself or someone else for the stressful experience or what happened after it.
  11. Having strong negative feelings such as fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame.
  12. Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy.
  13. Feeling distant or cut off from other people.
  14. Trouble experiencing positive feelings.
  15. Irritable behavior, angry outbursts, or acting aggressively.
  16. Taking too many risks or doing things that could cause you harm.
  17. Being “superalert” or watchful or on guard.
  18. Feeling jumpy or easily startled.
  19. Having difficulty concentrating.
  20. Trouble falling or staying asleep.

If you have lived through a stressful experience and found yourself answering yes to the above questions, you may be living with PTSD. There are good options available for treatment, and I’d encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional or ask your primary care doctor for a referral to someone who can help. That trauma doesn't need to overshadow your life or continue to have a negative impact. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges,  call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

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