Sunday, May 06, 2012

Editorial: Removing the stigma


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be about to become Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.  That will be debated Monday in Pennsylvania at the American Psychiatric Association's convention. 

Changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will be addressed. Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) reported yesterday on General Peter Chiarelli's work to get PTSD changed to PTSI.

The thinking is that an injury is something a veteran will be more likely to seek treatment for. 

Though important, that's a small part of what needs to be done.  Among the many other pressing needs:

1) Money needs to be there.  It's not and that's why you're having scandals like in Washington state where people were rediagnosed apparently to cut spending.

2) The VA needs to get people speaking about it.  It's the same with suicide.  You need to hear stories from the top to realize (a) others have been through it and (b) you can make it to something better.  If General Smith has PTSD from the Persian Gulf War or Vietnam or whatever and Smith speaks of it, she or he is sending a strong message to those struggling right now.  The message is: "I got help.  And I made it to general.  My life is better and your life can be better too."

At The Common Ills for weeks now there's been a strong effort to take the post-traumatic stress down to the basics.  Meaning to talk about what it actually is.

To pull it away from the confusion that has it labeled as 'abnormal' or 'unnatural.'

It's actually a method of coping, a survival component.  The body and mind -- and soul -- are coping with an experience, a stressful and potentially deadly experience. 

You are placed in an environment in which people aren't safe.  You respond with heightened awareness, with hyper vigilance and this is how you survived.  Think of it as something hardwired into the human species.  Here's where this survival mechanism becomes a problem: You're no longer in that difficult situation.  You're back home among friends and family.  But you're having trouble turning that survival skill off. 

Turning the 'switch on' was a natural response to the environment the person was placed in.  Turning it off requires assistance and that's what therapy and treatment can be about.

When post-traumatic stress can be seen as a surival skill, a good thing, that now, back home, isn't necessary, you'll find many more people willing to get help.


Illustration is a VA illustration for Cognitive Processing Therapy.  For more on CPT, click here.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }