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Get treatment for PTSD

July 8, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
A number of years ago I was in the newsroom listening to the police scanner when I heard the ambulance called for a returning veteran of the Iraq war. Not long after getting off the bus that brought him home, the man suffered a panic attack.

I've often wondered about that man and how he fared. Did he try to suck it up and pretend nothing was wrong? Did he turn to drugs or alcohol to try to drown the bad memories? Did he get divorced? Is he even still alive?

Post traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop in survivors of some sort of trauma, which could be anything from fighting in a war to being a crime victim to being a survivor of a natural disaster. The solder who had the panic attack probably has PTSD. There will probably be a fair number of flood survivors in Minot who will battle symptoms of the disorder as the months and years drag on.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal – such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. To be diagnosed, the symptoms have to last for more than a month and seriously interfere with a person's social life, job or other aspects of day to day life. Treatment methods vary, but it's important to see a therapist or the symptoms will worsen.

I've been thinking about that soldier and PTSD this week in part because of the flood. Someone told me a story about a survivor of the 1969 flood who committed suicide after his house was flooded and I really hope there will be enough resources in place to help anyone who might be dealing with that kind of trauma.

I also am pondering whether we are sympathetic only to certain PTSD victims, those who fit in with our preconceived notions and follow an accepted script in dealing with the symptoms. Earlier this week I read a personal essay in GOOD magazine by Mac McClelland, a 31-year-old "Mother Jones" human rights reporter who developed PTSD after covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. McClelland, a veteran of other disaster zones including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, described interviewing rape survivors in Haiti and living in an impoverished, chaotic environment filled with gun violence and dangerous men. McClelland started drinking too much, had intrusive thoughts about the violence she'd heard described, avoided starting a relationship with a nice man she'd met and had trouble feeling normal emotion. She went into therapy. She also, after discussing the idea with her therapist and getting her endorsement, asked an ex-boyfriend she loved and trusted to help her exorcise her demons through consensual violent sex. McClelland's chosen response to PTSD might not work for other PTSD survivors, but it apparently worked for her. She said her symptoms have improved and she was able to return to work and start a new relationship.

McClelland wrote honestly about the whole experience. She has been catching a lot of flack ever since from people who accuse her of trivializing the experiences of real rape victims and of stereotyping Haiti as only a privileged white, western woman could. Foreign war correspondent Lara Logan got a similar response in February when she reported being assaulted by a mob in Egypt.

I think people would far prefer that female journalists did not talk about this sort of thing in public because it makes them uncomfortable and it might make editors more reluctant to send female journalists to war or disaster zones. Apparently, to follow this line of thought, it would have been better for McClelland and Logan to keep their mouths shut and suffer in silence. This is also the attitude that too many military veterans have about PTSD, seeing it as a sign of weakness not to be acknowledged. This kind of response is deadly for military vets and it is equally as deadly and wrongheaded when it applies to investigative journalists.

We know enough now to know that some people are going to develop PTSD after a trauma, whether it is war, an earthquake in Haiti, a violent crime or a flood in Minot. People will respond to it in different ways. Every individual and his or her response to trauma is unique. Having PTSD doesn't make someone weak. Getting treatment is a sign of strength for war veterans, journalists, abuse survivors and survivors of a flood disaster.

Addendum

And on a far more frivolous note ... did you know today is "World Disclosure Day? According to a press release from the Paradigm Research Group, believers all over the world are calling on governments to disclose the truth about the aliens who live and work among us. Did I hear someone say "Roswell?' Why, yes, I did. These folks are sticking to their story that an alien crash landed there back in 1947 even if the government's official story is that it was a weather balloon.

Make of it what you will.

 
 

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