Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health dysfunction that affects people from around the world, no matter what their background. It is not genetic and it can occur at any time in your life.
So much has been written about this disorder so I wanted to add my own take on it. I’ve had personal and professional experience on this topic so I can safely say I have several decades of knowledge.
PTSD was originally understood in Veterans from Vietnam. This diagnosis was first formed in the late sixties as a result. From this research we then began to learn that it would also affect any human being who felt their life was in danger, had been abused, or were humiliated or tortured in some brutal fashion. Having worked with Children’s Protective Services for eight years, I could easily say that all of my clients had some or all of the symptoms of this diagnosis at one point in their life. Having run an international domestic violence support website for seven years, I can conclude the same results. Since most of us know someone who fit into one of these three categories – military, abuse, domestic violence, it wouldn’t be too hard to say every one of us knows someone who has suffered PTSD.
You can easily look up all the symptoms online, so I won’t name them one by one. But how does one deal with such a situation, if they are intimately engaged with it personally or in their household? First and foremost, the obvious step is to find a psychotherapist who is nearby that you or they can begin working with. Denying the existence of symptoms that you think you may have, or that others can see, does one no good as pretending something is not there only makes it worse. Many people dealing with PTSD have turned to self-medication as a way of coping.
The second thing you can do as a supportive person in the family, is to listen to them. Don’t allow denial but try not to be angry about it either, if the person is unable to face the truth. Nurturing guidance from a trusted friend or relative will go a long way. However, if the person is using substances, you don’t want to enable either. Unfortunately you must remain more detached from an addiction rather than nurturing, because if you don’t, you will go down with them.
One of the things I have read about with children is that they cope with PTSD symptoms much easier when their family member is supporting them through this.
There are times though when supporting someone means you have to let go and move away from the person for your own safety. We have heard about veterans who have been involved in forensic situations such as assault, murder, or destruction of property. These are instances where symptoms got completely out of hand, there was no supportive services for the person and life became uncontrollable on every level (job, home, relationships, spirituality). There are statistics that show that many persons involved in crime and are behind bars have once been children in the foster care system.
Mental health support is provided to people in the military and people in foster care. In fact a great deal of care is placed on making sure this happens. There is, I think I’d be safe in saying, millions of dollars spent every year. Yet as the cliché goes, you can take a horse to water… and this is a horrible cliché to use but I can’t think of a better way of starting our thinking process. We can’t blame the victim of PTSD, the system, or ourselves. Mental health issues of any type would be much worse if there was no support at all. We see what has happened with the number of homeless people in America by dumping our mentally ill clients out on to the streets after closing state hospitals. However, people have to want help in order to receive it. Families need to support their own in a time of crisis. Society needs to be more open to the concept of getting help when there is a problem. The topic of mental health should not be a blind eye that we take until the worst possible event happens. We should never have family members on television, after the fact, stating that they knew something was a little off.
Now after having said all of this, I have probably scared you. I don’t mean to alarm because PTSD is not something to be afraid of, unless you ignore it. This case can be made for all mental health issues as well as physical health issues. If you ignore a tumor, you will most likely die if it gets worse. If you ignore a toothache you will be in extreme pain and end up losing a tooth. Its basic common sense but yet there are so many people who die in hospitals because they wait to the last-minute and there are people who hurt others, who have mental health issues, because they went untreated.
As I mentioned, I have had PTSD in my life. I don’t have it anymore. There are many people who can say that they have had this disorder, yet with plenty of help and work on our selves, it will and can go away. The symptoms can disappear. The more extreme the case of PTSD, based on the event and how it effected the person, the longer it can take to deal with it. So please note that time heals all wounds (again the cliché) but there is no time limit for doing so. As a family member or a person afflicted with such a disorder, don’t beat yourself up or them for taking so long to get through this. With healing there is no clock in our mind, body and soul.
In writing about PTSD, I am hoping to offer this message. With the right therapist, attention to self in and out of treatment, supportive family members and sometimes even medications, this is not a forever diagnosis.