Posts Tagged ‘Major depression’

PTSD Can Last a Lifetime

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Picture this: Late at night, in the middle of winter, a 69-year-old woman, less than 5 feet tall, flees her north suburban home, carrying two shopping bags filled with her belongings. When found wandering by police, she insists that someone is trying to kill her. 

The woman in question is Sonia Reich (mother of Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich), who is the subject of “Prisoner of Her Past,” a documentary from Kartemquin Films, renowned for “Hoop Dreams.” Sonia, who managed to hide from the Nazis as a young girl in the woods outside a small Polish village (now a part of Ukraine) has been diagnosed with late-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (the same PTSD which we normally associate with army veterans). Prisoner of Her Past, directed by Gordon Quinn, deals with the type of PTSD which appears years, or even decades after the trauma occurs. Moreover, the extent of Sonia’s PTSD is so great that not only is she suffering from the usual symptoms (sleeplessness and hypervigilance among others) but that she also, as her son writes, “had so deeply absorbed her childhood traumas into the fabric of her being that there simply was no way she could ever escape them…they were replaying themselves in an endless loop in her traumatized psyche.”

PTSD is something we need to think about seriously as we deal with the aftermath of traumatic events like the recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin and the return of servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that one in five soldiers suffers from PTSD or major depression. Brian Scott Ostrom is one of them. He was the subject of a 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning essay in the Denver Post.  After serving four years as a reconnaissance marine and deploying twice to Iraq, he has struggled with daily life, from finding and keeping employment to maintaining healthy relationships. But most of all, five years later, he’s struggled to overcome his brutal and haunting memories of Iraq.

PTSD Awareness Day was first established by Congress in 2010 after Sen. Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), proposed honoring North Dakota Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, who took his own life following two tours in Iraq. Biel’s birthday was June 27. “National PTSD Awareness Day should serve as an opportunity for all of us to listen and learn about post-traumatic stress and let all our troops — past and present — know it’s okay to come forward and ask for help,” Conrad said in a statement.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called the recent surge in the number of military suicides “troubling and tragic” at a suicide prevention conference sponsored by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs in Washington last week. 

There were 154 suicides among active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year, according to a recent report from the Associated Press, a number that is 50 percent higher than the number of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan over that time period. It is the highest rate in 10 years of war. Panetta also said he wants to make the Department of Defense a “game-changing innovator” on research in areas related to suicide prevention, including in post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Michelle Obama “Joining Forces” With Med Schools to Treat Wounded Warriors

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Two medical education groups and 130 medical schools signed on to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to “train the nation’s physicians to meet the unique healthcare needs of the military and veterans’ communities,” the White House announced recently.  The schools pledged to do in-depth research into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and to teach medical students and physicians to “better diagnose and treat our veterans and military families,” according to the announcement.  “By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research, and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they’re ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned,” Obama said.

Speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Obama said that the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine have pledged to devote research, education and clinical care to address military service members’ crucial healthcare needs.

The initiative is part of the Joining Forces campaign, an effort by the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden that focuses on issues that affect veterans and their families.  Obama cited some examples already are underway at universities, including VCU, which has undertaken a project to provide resources and training to healthcare providers, volunteers and community members across Virginia to help veterans.  Similarly, University of Pittsburgh researchers are developing a new imaging tool that lets physicians see high-definition views of the brain’s wiring. This can help diagnose a TBI. And the University of South Florida is working with the VA and the Department of Defense to create a Center for Veterans Reintegration – a research, treatment and education center for veterans and their families.

“Today the nation’s medical colleges are committing to create a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research facilities to make sure our heroes receive the care worthy of their military service,” Obama said. The idea behind Joining Forces is extremely simple, Obama said. “In a time of war, when our troops and their families are sacrificing so much, we all should be doing everything we can to serve them as well as they are serving this country,” she added. “It’s an obligation that extends to every single American. And, it’s an obligation that does not end when a war ends and troops return home. In many ways, that’s when it begins.”

Mrs. Obama said she became aware of this when she and President Barack Obama welcomed the final troops home from Iraq last month. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though we were marking the end of the war, this was not an ending for them.  For our troops, the end of war marks the beginning of a very long period of transition,” she said. Frequently, the transitions from war to home “bring the hardest moments our troops and their families will ever face,” she added.

It is estimated that one in six of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans come home with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and at least 4,000 have had at least a moderate-grade brain injury, Mrs. Obama said, noting that many avoid seeking help because of what they perceive as a stigma.  “I want to be very clear today: these mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness,” she said. “They should never again be a source of shame. They are a natural reaction to the challenges of war, and it has been that way throughout the ages.”

Obama thanked the troops and their families for their service, and noted that anyone experiencing mental health difficulties should not be ashamed.  “Seek help, don’t bury it,” she said. “Asking for help is a sign of strength.”  The Pentagon estimates that nearly 213,000 military personnel have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2000.

A previous report by the Rand Corp. think tank estimated that 300,000 veterans of both conflicts suffered PTSD or major depression.  Less than 50 percent had sought treatment for PTSD over the previous year and approximately 60 percent of those reporting a probable brain injury had not been evaluated by a physician for one.  “This is a long-term issue for the nation,” said Brad Cooper, the executive director of Joining Forces.

“Those of us who have never experienced war will never be able to fully understand the true emotional costs,” Mrs. Obama said. “PTSD, TBI, depression and any other combat-related mental health issue should never again be a source of shame.”

Although the military has strong support systems and personnel trained in combat-related mental health issues, more than half of veterans seek treatment in their hometowns, outside the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mrs. Obama said. The new initiative aims at assuring that all civilian physicians have access to information on those issues.

“Everyone is stepping up,” Mrs. Obama said while praising the ongoing work of researchers at the colleges involved in the initiative.  She said the will to help veterans is strong and goes beyond Veterans Day parades and rallies on Fort Bragg.  Obama said the “hidden wounds” faced by many veterans are the “most difficult struggle they will face.”  She said it was imperative for the nation’s physicians to understand the mental health challenges involved.  “Mere words and anecdotes don’t do any of this justice,” she said.