Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Veterans

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Veterans

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This essay discusses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its effect on combat soldiers involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. The goal of this paper is to inform others about what the soldiers deal with during and after combat and the different treatments available for them to cope with and hopefully overcome this disorder.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops when someone is witness to or experiences a traumatic event. PTSD has specific symptoms resulting from traumatic life threatening experiences. Symptoms resulting from the event must be present in a certain way over a period of time and for certain duration. A person who witnesses two or more traumatic events in a short amount of time can cause the brain to release the hormone glucocorticoid which helps control the response to stress. When this hormone is low or depleted and a second traumatic event takes place before the hormone is replenished in the brain, the stress becomes even more intensified thus increasing the person’s chances of developing PTSD. Most people who develop PTSD get better but 1 out of 3 people may continue to have some symptoms over their lifetime.
The main symptom of PTSD is reliving the traumatic experience through flashbacks and nightmares. Other symptoms include soldiers avoiding situations, people or conversations that would remind them of the trauma. They tend to avoid memories by becoming numb, distant, or stop showing love towards others. Activities, such as sports, that may have been a favorite pastime, may not be interesting anymore. The person may also show signs of paranoia as always being alert and on the lookout for danger. They may become jittery, easily startled when hearing loud noises such as a car backfiring or when a friend dove behind a store dumpster after a store employee threw a florescent light and it made a sound like an explosion. In some cases, the person becomes angry, irritable, and even violent.
People who are dealing with PTSD may start drinking and using drugs to cope with the memories, flashbacks and nightmares. Many feel hopelessness, shame, or despair. PTSD makes holding down a job much harder, and relationships can be destroyed when there is physical, verbal or mental abuse. Some people cannot deal with the continual flashbacks and nightmares of PTSD and end up committing suicide.
There are several treatments to help patients deal with symptoms of PTSD and to have more productive and happier lives.

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One of the most effective treatments is cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a type of counseling. Cognitive Therapy is used to help the patient to understand and change how the patient thinks about the event or events that caused them to develop PTSD. The therapist helps the patient to replace thoughts about the world and his or herself for thoughts that are less stressful. The patient can learn ways to cope with his or her feelings of guilt, fear, and anger. CBT can help the patent to accept that what happened isn’t his or her fault.
Exposure Therapy states that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of the traumatic events. This therapy has the patient talk reapeatedly about the trauma to the therapist. This allows the patient to gain control of his or her thoughts and feelings. So the patient does not have to be afraid of his or her memories. The patient can eventually become “desensitized” by dealing with the less traumatic memory until the patient has worked up to the most traumatic memory. Some therapist may ask the patient to remember all the bad memories at the same time is called “flooding” which in turn helps the patient learn not to feel overwhelmed.
Rapid Eye Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a newer therapy for PTSD. This therapy helps the patient focus on distractions like eye movements, hand taps, and sounds. An example of EMDR is the therapist moves his or her hand near the face of the patient and the patient then follows the movement of the hand with his or her eyes. This therapy is still being studied by experts to learn how EMDR works.
Medications are another treatment and are usually used alongside therapy such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are a type of antidepressant. These medications appear to be helpful and for some people they are very effective. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft). SSRIs raise the level of serotonin in the brain and this helps to reduce the effects of depression which is a symptom of PTSD.
Research for treatments of PTSD is in the field of neurology. Some interesting facts have turned up in the study of the brains function in how we process our fear response. Stathmin is a chemical in our brain that allows us to form fear memories from our experiences. When researchers treated mice to diminish their levels of stathmin, they were less likely to form fear memories and not be affected by panic when confronted with traumatic experiences later. [Source: NIMH].
When researchers at Ft. Bragg, N.C. studied soldiers who handle stressful situations better than others, they believe they found a chemical called Neuropeptide Y. This chemical is thought to be the brains own anti-anxiety drug. This chemical becomes depleted when the person is exposed to a stressful and traumatic situation. If this chemical becomes more depleted through 2 or more close traumatic events, the person is more fearful and less prone to overcome the event or events.
Virtual reality is a new approach to help reduce PTSD. This allows the patient who was exposed to a traumatic event such as the attacks on September 11th World Trade Center to become active observers instead of relying on their own recollections to overcome their PTSD symptoms. One woman in the study reduced her PTSD symptoms by 90 percent. There is hope that this and the other new treatments mentioned will help our combat troops to better cope and hopefully overcome PTSD symptoms.

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