Entries in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (9)


Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's Killing Puts Spotlight on PTSD

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The shooting death of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, an advocate for veterans' mental health, has pushed the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder among American troops to the fore.

Kyle, who was known as America's deadliest sniper, was killed Saturday at a gun range in Erath County, Texas.  The suspect, identified by police as 25-year-old Eddie Ray Routh, is a veteran who served in Iraq and Haiti and who police say may have been suffering from some type of mental illness from being in the military.

A second man, identified by police as 35-year-old Chad Littlefield, was also shot at point-blank range and killed.  Kyle and Littlefield had taken Routh to the shooting range to aid his recovery, police said.

"My heart is breaking," Travis Cox, director of FITCO Cares, the non-profit foundation Kyle co-founded to help ease veterans back into civilian life, said in a statement.  "Chris died doing what he filled his heart with passion -- serving soldiers struggling with the fight to overcome PTSD.  His service, life and premature death will never be in vain."

Routh will be charged with two counts of capital murder, police said on Sunday.

While the details of Routh's mental health are unclear, up to 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, according to a 2008 RAND study.

"The symptoms can range from mildly disturbing to wholly incapacitating," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and president elect of the American Psychiatric Association, describing the nightmares and flashbacks that can haunt soldiers long after their return to civilian life.  "And we're still limited in our understanding of why it occurs, what it consists of and the best approaches to treatment."

One treatment approach involves the slow, steady, re-exposure of patients to their PTSD triggers, according to George Everly, associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

"It makes sense, in a way, re-exposing people to the thing they fear of in small doses, almost like an inoculation so the body says, 'this is uncomfortable, but I can handle it,'" Everly said.  "Under proper, controlled conditions, re-exposure therapy is certainly one of the most popular treatments for PTSD when done by a professional."

Although Kyle was known to take veterans battling PTSD to the shooting range, it's unclear whether Routh suffered from the disorder and whether the activity was intended to expose him to any PSTD triggers, such as gunfire.

"Kind of have an idea that maybe that's why they were at the range, for some type of therapy that Mr. Kyle assists people with," Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant told reporters on Sunday.  "I don't know if it's called shooting therapy, I don't have any idea but that's what little bit of information that we can gather so far."

The shooting is the latest in a string of tragedies stirring debates around gun control and mental health.  But Lieberman said the mentally ill "do not contribute substantially to the overall rates of gun violence in this country."

"People with mental illness tend to be overrepresented in these sorts of tragedies largely because their symptoms have gone untreated -- they lack access to care or they lack insight to the fact they need care," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Denver Woman Sentenced for Faking PTSD to Dodge Jury Duty

Hemera/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- A Denver woman has pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury and attempting to influence a public servant for faking post-traumatic stress disorder to dodge jury duty, according to a statement from the Denver District Attorney.

Susan Cole arrived for jury selection in June 2011 looking purposefully disheveled, wearing curlers in her hair and mismatched shoes, according to an affidavit obtained by the Denver Post.

Cole reportedly told Denver District Court Judge Anne Mansfield she “broke out of domestic violence in the military” and had “a lot of repercussions,” including PTSD.

“Her makeup looked like something you would wear during a theater performance,” court reporter Kelli Wessels told investigators at the time, according to the Denver Post.  “When the judge asked the entire panel if anyone had a mental illness, [Cole] stated she had difficulties getting ready in the morning, which was apparent to me by the way she was dressed.”

Cole was excused from her civic duties.  But her plot was foiled four months later when Judge Mansfield heard a woman bragging about how she faked mental illness to evade jury duty on a local radio show.

The woman, who called herself “Char from Denver,” was Cole, an author who uses “Char” as a pen name, the Denver Post reported.

Cole pleaded guilty Tuesday and was given a two-year deferred judgment for the felony count of attempting to influence a public servant -- a felony -- and two years of probation for the misdemeanor count of second degree perjury, according to the Denver District Attorney.  She is also required to perform 40 hours of community service.

“As a mental health professional, I find this disturbing and upsetting,” Dr. Joseph Calabrese, a psychiatrist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, told ABC News at the time.  “PTSD is a very serious, life threatening illness.  And things like this tend to trivialize it.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder brought on by a traumatic event, such as domestic abuse.  The debilitating symptoms -- which include emotional numbing, anger and terrifying flashbacks -- increase the risk of suicide.

“I find these sorts of things distracting and inappropriate,” Calabrese said of Cole’s “manipulative” behavior.  “That sort of criminal behavior has nothing to do with mental illness.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


PTSD, Depression Passed Through Generations, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Researchers at UCLA have identified mutations within three genes, which according to them may make some people more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

The researchers analyzed 200 adults from 12 multigenerational families who were exposed to the 1988 earthquake in Spitak, Armenia, most of whom saw dead bodies lying in the streets and people who were severely injured.

The participants underwent psychological screening and a genetic test 14 years after experiencing the earthquake.  The researchers found that people with mutations in any of three genes responsible for secreting the happiness hormone serotonin had PTSD and depression symptoms.

Previous studies have suggested that PTSD is heritable among siblings who experience traumatic situations such as war.  But this study suggests that the disorder is also heritable through multiple generations, according to Julia Bailey, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at UCLA, and co-author of the study.

“We found that both PTSD and depression are heritable and that they share genes,” said Bailey, who added that the findings are consistent with previous research suggesting a genetic connection between PTSD and depression.

Unlike previous studies, the participants in this study were not previously diagnosed with PTSD or depression, nor were they seeking any sort of treatment for their symptoms.

However, all of the participants were of the same ethnic background, so the findings may not apply to all people, the researchers wrote in their study published Tuesday in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


911 Dispatchers at Risk for PTSD, Research Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DEKALB, Ill.) -- The emergency dispatchers who remain calm and unemotional while handling 911 calls may not witness the carnage their front-line police and firefighting colleagues encounter, but they can be just as vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder from all they hear and imagine, researchers report.

The men and women who field 911 emergencies hear some of the most soul-searing sounds imaginable: the anguished wailing of gunshot victims, the final words of someone they can't deter from suicide or the last thoughts of workers trapped in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.  But the stresses of their experiences sometimes haven't been considered traumatic because the dispatchers haven't left their computer consoles.

"This is a population of people who are routinely exposed to events that should be considered traumatic," said Michelle Lilly, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., who co-authored a study assessing the psychological impact of the crises dispatchers experience from afar.  "People think of the job as stressful, but not really traumatic."

Lilly, head of NIU's Trauma, Mental Health and Recovery Lab, and research associate Heather Pierce, a former 911 dispatcher married to a police officer, analyzed surveys completed by 171 emergency dispatchers from 24 states.  The survey takers were asked to describe the worst calls they had handled.  The group comprised predominantly of white women just under the age of 39 with nearly 12 years on the job, according to the study published Thursday in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Most said their worst experiences involved imperiled children or sending firefighters, police officers or emergency medical technicians who were friends and loved ones into harm's way.

"I was blown away by how upsetting some of (the incidents) would be for most people," Lilly said Wednesday as she described accounts of dispatchers talking parents "through CPR after they have discovered their child has drowned in the pool."

She was particularly shaken by a call involving two young siblings, one of whom had a mental health problem.  The healthy child called 911 and locked himself in a room for protection, but the dispatcher "could hear the sibling trying to take the hinges off the door and intending to attack."

All the dispatcher could say was, "Help is on the way.  We'll get there as fast as we can," Lilly said.

Such situations can engender feelings of fear, helplessness and horror which, when unaddressed, can set the stage for PTSD.  Lilly and Pierce found that 3.5 percent of the survey respondents reported symptoms "severe enough they probably would qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD," Lilly said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


American Hikers Face Enormous Psychological Challenges

AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After 26 months of imprisonment in a notorious Iranian prison, American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal face a psychologically daunting readjustment to freedom.

"What these two guys experienced over the past two years is an ongoing exposure to captivity, which is one of the most harmful and traumatic experiences that a human being can endure," said Yuval Neria, director of the Trauma and PTSD Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Being in prison, he said, often involves traumatic experiences, including isolation, a lack of privacy, a lack of social support and, in some cases, torture.

Sarah Shourd, Bauer's fiancee who was also held in the same prison after all three were arrested by Iranian authorities, told ABC News in July that Bauer and Fattal were blindfolded when outside their cells, isolated and rarely allowed phone calls.  Shourd was released from prison on a $500,000 bond for medical reasons last September.

She also revealed she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has had to deal with the anxiety of moving from an environment where she was isolated in solitary confinement to sudden celebrity.

The experience was so traumatizing, she told the Huffington Post in May, she couldn't return to Iran to face criminal sanctions alongside Bauer and Fattal.

"There's a part of me that would like to be with them and be able to stand by them and defend our innocence in court, but I'm afraid that it would be too traumatic for me after what I've already been through," she said.

PTSD, anxiety, depression, severe psychotic breaks and reliving abuse are among the conditions experts worry the hikers may face in the coming weeks and months.

"Initially, there is great excitement, happiness and relief for them and their families, but studies have shown in numerous populations that the emotional impact can be quite severe," Neria said.

While their families and other loved ones can provide the support and comfort the men need, the attention could potentially become overwhelming.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Play Raises Awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Jupiterimages/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- Invisible wounds plaguing men and women in the military -- post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, suicidality -- can be difficult for civilians, and even military professionals, to understand.

One play, "Re-Entry," hopes to change that. Written by K.J. Sanchez and Emily Ackerman, the documentary theater piece is based on real people: active duty and retired Marines, and their families. Each struggle with the aftermaths of war. The names have been changed, but the dialogue comes directly from the 100-plus interviews conducted by the playwrights, both of whom have brothers who've served in the armed forces.

Originally intended not for military audiences, "Re-Entry" is now touring military bases and hospitals, educating civilians and service members on what to expect from family members and friends just returning from war. On Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs hosted a special performance for caregivers of wounded veterans in Washington, D.C.

"If you're going to do something, it's gotta come from [the heart], and it shouldn't be clinical all the time," said Michelle Stefanelli, VA's program manager of caregiver peer support mentoring, who saw "Re-Entry" when it played in the N.Y. area.

"Re-Entry" reveals what it's like to be severely wounded in war and how it feels to be determined unfit for duty. Or what it's like to be sitting on a balcony back home in San Diego and subconsciously scanning for snipers. Eating in restaurants facing doorways to check if the enemy's entering. Burying the emotions of seeing an Iraqi mother holding her injured four-year-old son along the side of the road, begging for help that isn't going to come. Or being responsible for the lives of 40 men and women in Afghanistan and return home only to overhear people griping about their Starbucks orders or the latest reality show, unaware of your sacrifice.

The military is racing to figure out how to tackle these invisible wounds, with an estimated average of 18 veteran suicides per day, according to the Center for Disease Control. In 2009, the services reported 381 suicides by active-duty personnel, and in 2010, the number jumped to 434, just 28 fewer deaths than those that occurred in hostile combat that year. Last year marked the sixth consecutive year the Army's suicide rate has increased.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Writer Stages Her Own Rape to Cure PTSD

Courtesy of Mac McClelland(NEW YORK) -- Mac McClelland, a civil rights reporter who has seen the impact of sexual violence around the globe, couldn't shake the image of Sybille, a woman who said she had been raped at gunpoint and mutilated in the aftermath of Haiti's catastrophic 2010 earthquake.

While on assignment for Mother Jones last September, McClelland said she accompanied Sybille to the hospital when the woman saw her attackers and went into "a full paroxysm -- wailing, flailing" in terror.

Something snapped in McClelland, too.  She became progressively enveloped in the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress -- avoidance of feelings, flashbacks and recurrent thoughts that triggered crying spells.  There were smells that made her gag.

McClelland, 31, sought professional help but said she ultimately cured herself by staging her own rape, which she writes about in a haunting piece for the online magazine Good.  The title: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD.

Her sexual partner mercilessly pinned her, beat her about the head and brutally violated McClelland -- at her request.

"I was not crazy," she told ABC News.  "It was a way for me to deal in sort of a simulated, but controlled situation.  I could say 'stop' at any time.  But it was still awful, and the body doesn't understand when it's in a fight."

McClelland writes, "It was easier to picture violence I controlled than the abominable nonconsensual things that had happened to Sybille."

The article brought out disgust in some readers, but many more were supportive.

"I got an email every 10 minutes from a total stranger, thanking me for saying they felt a lot less isolated and they appreciated someone starting the conversation," she said.  "Some of them were incredibly intense and emotional."

Experts don't recommend self-treatment as a way to alleviate post-traumatic stress, but they say the concept of "mastery" of the situation -- or literally reliving the experience that triggered the mental breakdown -- can be effective.

"People want to feel better and have the tendency when they are feeling terrible to attempt some way at mastery," said Elana Newman, research director for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and a professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa.  "People try to make sense of the experience in any way they can with the resources they've got."

Newman said McClelland was "brave" as a journalist to address her struggle so openly, but she does not recommend that those with post-traumatic stress "put themselves at risk without controls."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Which Soldiers Are at Greatest Risk of Developing PTSD?

Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Military service members who screened positive for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder before deploying overseas are more likely to develop the disorder, according to a new study published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers at San Diego State University found that troops who showed the early symptoms were five times more likely to develop PTSD after returning from their tours abroad than those who didn't show the initial signs.

Futhermore, troops taking psychiatric drugs or under stress before deployment were 2.5 times more likely to develop the disorder than colleagues without these risk factors.  Those who suffered a severe injury during deployment also had an increased chance of developing PTSD later on.

The study's authors concluded that this study may help identify more vulnerable members of the deployed military population, leading to early intervention and prevention of PTSD.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Marines Battalion Mentally Upbeat, Despite Record Deaths 

Jupiterimages/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment returned home from one of Afghanistan's deadliest war zones this week after a grueling eight-month deployment with record casualties. Remarkably, military psychiatrists say the men appear to be relatively unscathed mentally.

"So far so good," said their second-in-command, Maj. Mark Carlton, who endured the 20-hour flight back with the first wave of Marines and Navy personnel from Afghanistan's Helmand Province to California's Camp Pendleton.

The battalion witnessed 25 dead, 140 wounded and more than a dozen amputees. But overall rates of combat stress among the 250 mostly infantrymen, at least in their first medical evaluations, appeared to be no higher than other units in the southern province, experts said.

Some wonder why that battalion -- nearly 1,000 in all in the heart of the Taliban insurgency -- appears so psychologically intact, when some reports show as many 37 percent of recent war veterans are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Carlton attributed much of the good mental health to the battalion's "proactive" small-unit leadership structure.

"They know each other and live with each other the entire deployment and are never far from someone on the team," he said. "If there's a change in behavior or signs of stress, it's immediately picked up by someone who knows the guy really well."

"You absolutely see that in a lot of places and not just the military," he said. "On high school sports teams, kids get tight over time. Common understanding can't be replicated."

The battalion faced combat almost immediately when they took control of the Sangin District from the British last September. One of the fatalities was 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, son of Lt. Gen. John Kelly, the personal military aide to Defense Secretary William Gates, the most senior officer to lose a child since American troops arrived in the country in 2001.

But as casualties mounted, visiting mental health professionals said they didn't see a comparable rise in mental health issues and were surprised by the unit's resiliency.

Now, back at Camp Pendleton, the Marines have ordered the unit to stay intact with their families for three months to allow them to decompress together. There, additional mental health professionals have been brought in to watch for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

An estimated 1 in 5 combat veterans will eventually be diagnosed with PTSD and 1 in 3 will have some emotional or neurological problems related to war, according to a New York University study of 300,000 returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan at veterans' hospitals.

"The majority of people are highly resilient," said Dr. Charles Marmar, chair of the psychology department at NYU's Langone School of Medicine and a psychiatrist who has studied PTSD among veterans since the Vietnam War.

He said unit cohesion, proper training and a healthy personal life are all protectors against PTSD.

PTSD was first known as "soldier's heart" during the Civil War. Later, in World War I, it was called "shell shock." Symptoms usually start soon after a traumatic event, but may not emerge until months or years later, according to the National Center for PTSD, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sufferers can relive the event in nightmares and flashbacks or even when just hearing a car back fire or seeing a car accident. Emotional numbness, hyperarousal and feelings of hopelessness are also symptoms.

Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among troops serving nearly a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq have been on the rise and has been directly related directly to combat exposure. Soldiers at greatest risk were under the age of 25, according to 2009 ABC reports. Suicides in that age group were also up.

In May, the American Psychiatric Association will devote part of its upcoming annual meeting to promising approaches in intervention and treatment in the military.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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