Spreading the word about PTSD
By: ANNIE TASKER -Bucks County Courier Times
Routinely facing the fear that the road beneath them would detonate, a group of military supply truck drivers came up with their own way of making it through the day.
They’d meet at the base’s coffee cart and talk about the funniest thing that happened on their last run – which, more often than not, involved flatulence.
That was one coping mechanism described Wednesday by Patcho Santiago, an assistant professor for the Uniformed Services University’s department of psychiatry. Santiago addressed responses to disasters and post-traumatic stress disorder at a workshop at Doylestown Hospital’s Health and Wellness Center in Warrington.
Wednesday’s workshop, sponsored by Doylestown nonprofit Foundations Community Partnership, comes with the public still reeling and details still emerging about the mass shooting at Fort Hood. The attack last month left 13 dead and more than 30 injured.
Santiago, an active duty Navy psychiatrist, said he wasn’t authorized to talk about the incident; the shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, was a graduate of the federal health sciences university where he works.
Instead, he discussed the impact of disasters on mental health, characteristics of people with post-traumatic stress and how to address its effects.
When people experience a traumatic event, 10 percent won’t have any post-traumatic stress symptoms, Santiago said. Two-thirds have some symptoms that get better over time, and a quarter will chronically feel the disaster’s effects.
PTSD can manifest through flashbacks, nightmares or frightening thoughts of the incident, as well as numbing or avoidance and feeling easily startled or tense.
Santiago touted the benefits of helping people after a traumatic event through collective rituals, like memorials.
One school official in the audience, who asked not to be identified, said she works with students who have lost multiple friends – not dissimilar to soldiers’ situations – and could find themselves at a memorial every week.
Santiago said formally remembering an individual person isn’t always required. He suggested enlisting someone who is known and respected by the community to help establish and spread the word about a collective healing ritual.
Many military service members reported not wanting to seek mental health treatment because of concerns that their unit leaders might treat them differently and that they might be perceived as weak, according to data presented Wednesday. Perceived barriers to mental health care were reported far more by people who had pronounced psychological problems, Santiago said.
He asked the audience, made partly of educators and mental health professionals, how they might engage soldiers who had been involved in something traumatic but were likely to resist seeking help.
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