June is PTSD Awareness Month. WVPE's Kent Fulmer spoke to John Horsley, Vice President of Adult and Addiction Services at Oaklawn about post traumatic stress disorder.
A transcript of the interview is below:
Kent Fulmer: I was wondering, to start things out, if we could get a working definition of what PTSD is? I think a lot of people give it a narrow box — they say that, and just strictly think of the military. But it's more than that.
John Horsley: Oh, it's much more than that. Post traumatic stress disorder is a disorder that affects people in a really profound way, and it’s obviously caused by traumatic experiences that happen in a person’s life. Sometimes, those things can include mood changes. They can include nightmares or sleep disturbances. They can also look at anger outbursts, avoidance of certain things, and sometimes can even have what we call dissociative symptoms where they lose track of time and where they’re at. It can be a very debilitating disorder, and also a very treatable disorder.
Fulmer: How common is PTSD?
Horsley: In the U.S., about 8 percent of our population, maybe closer to 9 percent of our population actually experience post traumatic stress disorder. With that said, there’s a whole list of related disorders called trauma related disorders, in our diagnostic book that we use. And trauma is one of those things that’s the root of a lot of different diagnoses. Even though only about 9 percent of people develop diagnosable post traumatic stress disorder, trauma impacts people’s mental health in a very profound way.
Fulmer: So, we’re really safe saying one in ten people may have some symptoms that fall into that broad category, right?
Fulmer: Just out of curiosity — and we talked a little bit about the symptoms a little earlier — if someone has had a traumatic experience in their life, what red flags would a friend or family member be looking for to say, ‘you know what, maybe this person needs to seek some additional help’?
Horsley: The big thing when people have a traumatic experience is to have a lot of support, some debriefing and some safe places to really process through what’s happened and how they’re feeling about it. And it’s really a great prevention measure that can kind of stop the progression of PTSD in someone's life. Sometimes, however, people don’t get that, or they kind of shut down, or maybe they just don’t have those resources available to them to process those things. And so then what happens is those symptoms start to emerge. And they start to emerge pretty quickly, and so what we generally say is that if someone is experiencing symptoms for 30 days or more, then that is a sign that definitely professional attention needs to be paid to what’s going on and how do we get this corrected.
Fulmer: So that was kind of where I was going — what do we look for, how do we know somebody might need a little help. What sort of resources are available here in the community for someone that’s dealing with a trauma-related situation?
Horsley: There’s several interventions that are evidence-based, which means they actually show that people can improve. Two of those interventions are widely available in our community — one is cognitive behavioral therapy. The other, and I’m a little biased because I’m a EMDR practitioner, but eye movement desensitization reprocessing is an evidenced-based intervention that is really effective in dealing with PTSD. There are a number of mental health professionals in the area, including here at Oaklawn, that are trained in EMDR and can provide that service.
Fulmer: If someone thinks they know someone that’s having problems, how would they get in touch with Oaklawn to get some help?
Horsley: They would just call our main number and explain what’s happening, and our intake staff would get them in and direct them to a therapist with that expertise. And I would always say that when you notice these mood changes, or these changes in behavior that seem to stem from that traumatic thing that happened, it’s always important to go with resources and give them room and safety to think through, make decisions and look at things as well. There are some great resources online at the EMDR institute that have videos showing the intervention and discuss how effective it is. It is also sometimes very helpful for people to learn so they’re comfortable dealing with the trauma, because when someone has been traumatized, talking about it is the last thing they want to do because of what it brings up for them.
Fulmer: Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us.