As part of PTSD Awareness Month the Clinic Director at our Dallas location, Dr. Amy Williams, is taking a look at how the diagnosis of PTSD has evolved as well as the treatment options. This is part one of a two part series. Part two will run next week.
Over 35 years ago, experts coined the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to describe the prolonged, troubling symptoms in the aftermath of experiencing a traumatic event. Recently, PTSD was re-categorized from an Anxiety Disorder to its own category of Trauma Related Disorders. This change was made in recognition that PTSD is more than simply a fear response involving re-living the memory and avoidance. It is a complex group of symptoms that include changes in mood/emotions such as sadness and guilt as well as behavioral changes including reckless, impulsive, or angry behavior.
About half of adults will face a traumatic event in their lifetime such as actual/threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. Seven to eight out of 100 people will qualify for a PTSD diagnosis at some point in their life. An estimated 20% of post 9/11 veterans have PTSD in a given year. Although veterans who have been exposed to combat are at a higher risk for developing PTSD, it is important to remember that traumatic events can occur pre- and post-deployment as well and are not only limited to combat. Military sexual trauma, childhood abuse, witnessing a suicide, these are all possible events that can result in PTSD.
Not all who experience a trauma will develop full-blown PTSD. But, for those who do, it is a formidable problem including being at a higher risk for co-occurring depression, anxiety, and substance use problems. PTSD puts people at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, insomnia, and GI disorders. PTSD sufferers are at a 13x greater risk for dying by suicide. U.S. data shows PTSD is associated with greater use of health care, more disability, and decreased employment.
The war on terror has coincided with changes to the military structure. An all-volunteer force means fewer soldiers are deploying multiple times. Over half of service members are married and over 75% have children. The isolation, avoidance, mood, and behavioral changes seen in PTSD impact family members—PTSD is associated with a deterioration in social support and network. All of this impacts the veteran in his/her transitioning from active-duty service.
Since PTSD became a diagnosis in 1980, research on its treatment has flourished. Experts now have many options for treatment including psychotherapy and medications. If you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD, there is help. For more information about PTSD symptoms and treatment, you can visit the National Center for PTSD website at www.ptsd.va.gov.
By Amy M. Williams, Ph.D.
Clinic Director, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Metrocare