Valley Behavioral HealthValley Behavioral Health

by Dr. Todd Thatcher, DO, CMO

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awareness month. It’s a time for us to reflect on a medical problem that challenges millions of Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 50% of the people in the United States will suffer a trauma in their lives. Fortunately, the human brain has a wonderful way to deal with trauma sometimes called the “fight or flight system.”

When someone is in danger, it produces powerful fear and anxiety emotions to warn them and get their body ready to fight or escape the situation. The person’s heart and breathing rate increase to supply oxygen to the body, and blood and nutrients are directed to the muscles to fight or run away.

After the danger has passed, the brain releases chemicals to calm the person back down within about 20 minutes. The brain also remembers the threat so that detection and reaction to a similar threat in the future will be faster.

For up to 30 days after someone suffers a traumatic event, it is normal and common for the brain to go through a recovery process. Just like recovery from a physical injury is often painful, recovery from a trauma can be painful for a while as well.

Common symptoms include nightmares of the trauma and flashback memories during the day, avoiding people and places that remind the person of the trauma, feelings of depression, irritability, anger control problems, and guilt. The symptoms happen because the brain relives the trauma and triggers the fight or flight system. Although the person is no in danger any more, their brain thinks it is.

Eventually, the brain recovers and the person moves on with their life. The memory of the trauma does not cause problems for them. When they remember the trauma, it is remembered with either no emotions, or only mild and manageable emotions.

PTSD develops when the person continues to suffer the trauma recovery symptoms for more than 30 days. If the symptoms persist for more than one year the PTSD is called chronic. The underlying problem is that the brain was damaged by the trauma and has not been able to recover on its own. It continues to activate the fight or flight system even when no danger is present, and the person cannot control trauma memories. It can be very disruptive to families, friendships, and jobs.

According to multiple sources including the Veterans Administration, the National Institute of Mental Health, and PTSD United, about 6% to 8% of Americans suffer from PTSD. They experienced a trauma, or multiple traumas, that they are unable to leave in the past.

PTSD is not a new human problem. It has probably affected human beings since the beginning of time. Scholars have found evidence of PTSD in ancient Greco-Roman soldiers as far back as 3,000 B.C. In the American Revolutionary War, it was called Nostalgia. In the Civil War it was called Soldiers Heart. In World War I it was called Shell Shock. In World War II it was called Battle Fatigue. In Vietnam it was called Gross Stress Reaction, then changed to the current PTSD. The names have changed, but the symptoms have not.

However, war is not the only trauma that can cause PTSD. Rape, fires, car accidents, muggings, and domestic violence, are just a few of the traumas that can cause PTSD. Each trauma is different for each person.

Fortunately, we live in a day and age when there is more hope for recovery than ever before. Evidence-based and FDA approved treatments are readily available. At Valley Behavioral Health, we have therapists and prescribers specially trained to assess and treat PTSD. Our providers are trained in trauma-informed care, and are inspired to help those with PTSD live more fulfilling lives, one person at a time.

The most important step is the first step to reach out for help. You don’t have to suffer alone any longer. Start your recovery today by contacting Valley Behavioral Health to schedule your first appointment. Let’s deal with it together.

 

Dr. Thatcher
About Dr. Thatcher
Dr. Todd Thatcher has worked at Valley for 8 years and has been the Chief Medical Officer for 5 years. He is triple board certified in forensic psychiatry, general psychiatry, and addiction medicine. Currently, Dr. Thatcher is passionate about high quality training of our employees and generating and tracking as much clinical data as possible to improve processes and procedures for increased ease, accessibility, and ultimately to better serve our clients and provide the best care possible.