In honor of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day, we sat down with a local expert and partner of Netsmart to discuss the complex, yet common disorder. Janice Storey, clinical director of Tri-County Mental Health Services, Inc., has more than 20 years of clinical experience. She has her license in Clinical Social Work and is a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker.
Storey sat down with us to dive deeper into what PTSD is, how it’s treated, how you can help and much more in hopes of gaining a better understanding and insight to a mental disorder experienced by more than 7.7 million Americans.
Check out our informative Q&A with Storey below.
Can you start by explaining what PTSD is?
It’s important to understand that PTSD itself is different than someone who is experiencing trauma. Sometimes, I think people confuse the two or think they’re the same. PTSD is a diagnosis from a medical doctor, therapist or anyone who has a license to do so. It can occur after a significant event, and it starts to impair an individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. It may be due to one event, or it could be due to many events happening over time. PTSD can appear immediately, or it can show itself much later. A person who has been diagnosed with PTSD may have multiple symptoms and can appear to be similar to other diagnosis. PTSD can occur in individuals who experience trauma directly, witnessed an event, or have experienced through work they do connected to an event.
What are some of the ways PTSD manifests itself in people?
It can be a variety of things. It can include symptoms of depression and anxiety, but it can also show itself through nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks or intense anger. PTSD can cause someone to not be able to get out to bed because they’re so scared or fearful. It can affect a lot of different areas of someone’s life and affect people in different ways. Symptoms of PTSD can be physical, too. Some of those things can be headaches, stomach aches or increased heart rate. Now, by themselves those wouldn’t necessarily designate PTSD, but they can be an indicator of the disorder. For example, someone may come in to the doctor’s office with something they see as medical, and the doctor may discover other linear symptoms where PTSD is actually the underlying issue.
What defines a traumatic experience?
What makes something traumatic is personal to that specific individual. How you define traumatic may be different than how I define it. People also have different perceptions of the impact of the event. However, for the most part, we can do sort of a litmus test to agree on what’s traumatic and what’s not. I think there are definitely categories such as war, sexual or physical assault, a severe car accident or something that’s connected to a fear of loss of life or endangerment that designates an event as traumatic.
How is PTSD typically treated?
Treatment typically depends on the level of symptoms. Someone may need medication because part of their symptoms include anxiety or depression, or they may need a sleep aid to help battle the insomnia often experienced with PTSD. Non-medication treatment can include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, exposure therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). These can all be helpful depending on what the symptoms are and what the level of impairment looks like. Treatment is typically individualized, because not one style of treatment will work for everyone who walks in the door. Because PTSD involves a multitude of symptoms, a variety of tailored approaches may need to be taken to effectively treat the individual. It can get complicated when someone is now suffering from substance abuse to deal with their PTSD, which will now need a new layer of treatment. Different people require different types of treatment.
Why do some people get PTSD after a certain event, but others do not?
This can be a difficult question. Sometimes, there’s a pattern with how things are handled afterward. If the person went right away to go get help after the event, or they were openly talking about it with a strong support group, then they may experience things differently than a person who didn’t do these things. However, outcomes can vary. Someone with the exact same type of support group may still develop PTSD, because for whatever reason they’re experiencing things differently. Although, I do think it makes a difference when someone seeks immediate help and is talking about it rather than just jumping back into their “normal” life after the traumatic experience. I don’t think there’s a definite always this or always that type of reaction from people, but seeking assistance and support right away definitely has its benefits.
What advice do you have for someone trying to assist a loved one with PTSD?
If somebody comes to tell you that they’ve been through an experience they feel was traumatic, you should take that very seriously. Be supportive and see if you can get them to somebody who can assess the situation and help them work through their experience. Even if someone is dealing with undiagnosed traumatic stress, it’s still may be causing them pain, therefore it’s important to encourage them to seek guidance. Overall, you should support them, be understanding of their feelings and be open to the changes and guidance they may need to undergo in order for them to work through these challenges. Sometimes it’s hard for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and we may not totally understand what they’re feeling, so it’s more about just being empathetic and getting them to go talk with someone who can provide the help they need.
What services does Tri-County offer to people suffering from PTSD?
Tri-County has a wide continuum of care. For example, we have medication providers who can assess and prescribe medication if someone’s treatment plan requires that. We offer individual family and group therapy. Many of these providers have received training to do evidence based protocols to address PTSD symptoms. If a person is also utilizing substances as a way to cope with their symptoms, Tri-County has substance use providers as well. We also have as more intensive services, where an individual may need a case manager to help them. We have a pretty wide range of service options here at Tri-County that we utilize to help people address their needs and concerns, including PTSD.
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