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Entries in PTSD (31)

Tuesday
Jul052011

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

Wednesday
Jun082011

Service Dogs Tremendously Helpful to Mentally Ill, Say Experts

Duncan Smith/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- A growing number of veterans are turning to dogs to help with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and experts say dogs can help with other psychiatric problems as well, including major depression and panic attacks.

"Dogs are very sensitive to escalations of mood. They can tell if a person's mood is starting to escalate to a panic attack," said Joan Esnarya, president and founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society. "They can tell their handlers this well in advance, before the handler has lost their composure and lost their ability to think clearly."

Dogs also help people with mental illnesses devote attention to the needs of the dog instead of solely on themselves.

"Dogs give them an alternate focus," said Esnarya. "Going out of the house, for example, is for the dog. That displacement frees up the brain a little bit and reduces anxiety."

Esnarya explained that although the symptoms of many disorders can be alleviated by service dogs, not everyone with one of these illnesses can have a service dog.

"A person has to be able to support the cost of a dog, for example," she said.

"Some people who have the dogs have been able to cut down on their medication," said Carol Borden, founder and executive director of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs.

Borden says that despite the benefits medical service dogs can offer, there are very few available. It costs about $20,000 and takes anywhere from 500 to 1,500 hours to train these dogs, and her organization gives them away for free after an application process. She and others who train service dogs have to rely mostly on donations since there is very little funding available.

Service dogs are protected under the law, meaning they are allowed to be with their handlers in public places provided they are well-behaved. The dogs must be specially trained to respond to their handlers' needs and to act appropriately in public. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun062011

Meditation Heals Military Vets With PTSD

Courtesy David George(FAIRFIELD, Iowa) -- For months, David George, 27, of Fairfield, Iowa, had been eyeing a pistol he saw at a local store.

In 2004, shortly after returning from Iraq, the former specialist in the 101st Airborne Division moved into his parents' home in Maryland. At every noise, George, who owned a rifle, systematically moved from one room to the next to make sure the house was clear. The pistol, he thought, would make it easier.

"But I didn't buy it, because I knew if I brought it home I'd shoot myself," he said.

George struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety that develops after enduring a traumatic experience. For five years, George underwent stints of medication and talk therapy, both intended to quell his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. But neither method worked for him, he said.

"It [the medications] helped make me not who I am. It took away my creativity, my personality, my ability to care about anything," said George. "The one-on-ones were like, why am I talking to someone who has no idea what I've been through."

Until one day in 2009, while participating in a research session on transcendental meditation, George sat still for 20 minutes and focused on repeating a mantra.

"From the first time I did it, I knew it was what I would do for the rest of my life," said George. "It was the first time I felt quiet in my mind for five years."

Transcendental meditation is a mind-based practice that involves focusing on a particular phrase, word or image to bring focus to individual thoughts. And preliminary research suggests that this form of meditation can be helpful in relieving symptoms of PTSD among combat veterans.

"One of aspect of PTSD is that the whole fight or flight response system is on overdrive. These people will be easy to agitate when something triggers a memory," said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School, and author of a study on transcendental meditation and PTSD published in Military Medicine.

Studies show transcendental meditation increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which regulates emotions.

"It certainly does make sense that it would help in PTSD patients, since it's often used for stress and anxiety," said Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, who was not involved in the study.

"We've always been really surprised by how much people like these practices. But the big question is whether it relieves the symptoms, or really does help with PTSD as a whole," said Newberg.

More than 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. But many veterans with PTSD do not seek treatment for their symptoms, possibly because of the stigma of mental illness and its potential impact on career advancement, Rosenthal said.

"The study demonstrated feasibility in doing it with a limited number of people and at low cost," said Rosenthal, author of the book Transcendence. "It can be sustained independently. It can be done outside of the system." George, who said he previously did not meditate, initially believed meditation was "hokey."

"It was a familiar attitude as what we have in the infantry," said George. But he said meditation made him feel more in charge of his well-being than than other treatments had. "I felt that if I wanted to overcome this, I needed to do it myself."

More than 350 studies have been published showing positive effects of transcendental meditation, including its ability to lower blood pressure, and help treat depression. But Rosenthal's research -- which looked at seven patients -- is one of only two others to evaluate the affects of meditation on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"When you see this dramatic impact, you have to be asking this question, why aren't we doing more of this," said Rosenthal.

George was among the first troops to enter Iraq in 2003. While mobilized to a town north of Baghdad, insurgents detonated a car packed with explosives next to the compound where George's unit was housed. According to George, that incident "kicked everything off."

"I started hearing the screams. Listening to all my friends suffer, that sticks in my mind," said George. "That's what really broke me."

George couldn't tell others about the event without tearing up and sweating.

"If I died in a motorcycle accident then, people would've thought, "Oh yeah, that's him." It would've been passive suicide," said George. "But once I had that clarity in my head, I could see what's happened to me since I came home." A year into practicing meditation, George could calmly recount the incident in Iraq.

While meditation worked for George's diagnosis, the levels of the condition could differ depending on the soldier, said Newberg. There's not enough evidence to suggest this practice could work for all soldiers with PTSD, said Newberg. Still, George said that more soldiers would take to meditation if they knew of others who practice. George, who now works in part with Operation Warrior Wellness -- a program initiated by the David Lynch Foundation -- is now committed to get 30,000 veterans to practice meditation within the next three years.

"I know combat. I know what hell is. I know what it's like when you get home," said George.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May022011

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

Monday
May022011

Reporter Calls Attention to Sexual Violence Against Female Journalists

TheGracies[dot]org(LOS ANGELES) -- Lara Logan, the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo's Tahrir Square the night that longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, opened up about the brutal attack in an emotional interview on 60 Minutes Sunday. The reporter said she decided to go public to call attention to sexual violence against female journalists, offering a tearful recollection of the horrific night she thought would be her last.

"There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the process of dying," Logan told CBS News' Scott Pelley. "I thought, 'Not only am I going to die, but it's going to be just a torturous death that's going to go on forever.'"

Logan said her clothes were torn off and her muscles were agonizingly stretched as she was separated from her crew and swallowed into the 200-to-300-strong mob. She recalled the flashes of cell phone cameras taking pictures of her naked body as her merciless attackers raped her with their hands.

"I didn't even know that they were beating me with flagpoles and sticks and things because I couldn't even feel that because I think the sexual assault was all I could feel, was their hands raping me over and over and over again," Logan said in the interview.

Logan was one of as many as 100 journalists who were assaulted, threatened or detained during the uprising. But the sexual nature of her attack left a psychological scar that many victims struggle to talk about.

"The physical wounds heal," Logan told the New York Times last week. "You don't carry around the evidence the way you would if you had lost your leg or your arm in Afghanistan."

Logan, 40, spent four days in the hospital following the Feb. 11 attack, which she described as being raped by the hands of the 200- to 300-strong mob. With the help of 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager, she released a statement that she had "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" -- a revelation that Logan told the Times, "didn't leave me to carry the burden alone, like my dirty little secret, something that I had to be ashamed of."

"You never want to force trauma victims to talk," said Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. "But what you're seeing her do is willingly processing the trauma."

Klapow said discussing a traumatic experience can help victims adapt and accommodate the horrific thoughts, even though the memory will never disappear.

"Basically she's saying what's likely playing out in her head over and over again. She's verbalizing many of the intrusive thoughts she's experiencing and processing them, so that they're no longer as anxiety-provoking," he said.

Trauma in the line of duty can make it difficult for victims to return to work, Klapow said, and although he couldn't comment on Logan specifically, Klapow said it's "entirely plausible that someone who has gone through what she has could suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome," adding that sexual violence can also impact relationships and intimacy.

"While this was in no way an intimate act, the two are tied together," he said. "It's not unfathomable that she could have issues with physical intimacy."

Logan, who returned to work at CBS News Wednesday, said she doesn't plan on giving more interviews on the attack -- a decision that Klapow called "protective."

"Dealing with trauma like this doesn't necessarily mean talking about your trauma over and over," Klapow said. "As a psychologist I applaud her for coming forward and telling her story, but I also support her in her wish not to make this her life cause."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr152011

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

Friday
Apr152011

Marines Battalion Mentally Upbeat, Despite Record Deaths

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.) -- The Marine 3-5 battalion 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, for the most part, 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 as 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."

The 3-5 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.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar182011

Preventing Suicide Among Servicemembers And Vets

Pixland/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The calls come pouring in to the National Veterans Crisis Hotline in Canandaigua, N.Y. There have been some 400,000 since the center first opened in July, 2007 and many of those calls result in rescues.

There is no doubt that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a staggering toll on America's military men and women.  A stunning report issued last year showed that in 2009 more soldiers died from non-combat injuries -- like suicide, than in war. The harsh reality is that too many soldiers are dying at their own hands and the question is how best to prevent those deaths.

Dr. Janet Kemp, national director of the Suicide Prevention Hotline at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and 1,100 other attendees are in Boston this week at a suicide prevention conference -- a joint collaboration between the Veteran's Administration and the Department of Defense -- to try to answer that question.

"We usually get about 11,000 calls a month and we would expect with the economy the way it is and more servicemembers coming home that our calls would increase but they haven't, they've flattened out…that led us to believe that we're not reaching everyone," said Kemp. "We know that Thursdays are our highest call volume days, but we don't know why. We know that late winter and early spring our calls increase but, again, we don't necessarily know exactly why," said Kemp.

A typical exchange goes something like this. A soldier picks up the phone and begins the conversation this way "I'm not sure this is the right place but…" at that point they indicate some level of mild distress; perhaps it's a simple relationship problem, or maybe a job-related issue and then as the call continues they might say "Oh, and by the way, I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)" or "by the way, my wife just left me." Kemp refers to these as the "by the way" calls, when the real reason for the crisis only becomes apparent deep into the conversation.

But for those who still struggle with mental health issues, the hotline is a key resource designed to address the specific needs of servicemembers. If a caller is enrolled in the VA healthcare system, their medical records can be instantly accessed by a counselor on the other end of the phone.  And information from the hotline consultation gets dropped right into their medical file. All counselors are trained to understand the specific mental health risk factors involved in serving in the military -- the difficulty of re-entry to civilian life for instance, the trauma of PTSD or the emotional difficulty of dealing with changed family or employment circumstances.

The suicide prevention conference wraps up this week in Boston.

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Feb232011

Researchers Discover Biological Pathway Linked to PTSD

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ATLANTA) -- Although most people exposed to the horrors of war, trauma or abuse recover emotionally, up to 20 percent develop post-traumatic stress disorder -- a debilitating psychiatric disorder marked by flashbacks and nightmares.

The biological basis for PTSD remains unclear. But a new study offers clues about why some people rebound from horrific events while others relive them, and may lead to predictive tests and even treatments.

To tease out factors that contribute to PTSD risk and resilience, researchers led by Dr. Kerry Ressler, associate professor at Emory University in Atlanta, studied a group of 64 highly traumatized civilians (not veterans) treated at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, some of whom developed PTSD.

"In a lot of very impoverished, high-violence neighborhoods, we see high rates of trauma, and rates of PTSD can be as high as in veterans," Ressler said.

Based on previous evidence that the hormone-like molecule known as PACAP was important in the brain's response to stress, the researchers measured PACAP levels in the blood of their subjects. To their surprise, PACAP levels were higher in people with PTSD, and correlated with the severity of symptoms. But the boost was only significant in women.

"When we started we didn't have any expectation that there was going to have a gender specificity to it," Kessler said. "We were just looking and found a smaller effect, and then we split it by gender and found that the whole effect was in females."

The team repeated the experiment in a group of 74 traumatized women. Again, PACAP levels correlated with PTSD symptoms -- especially those considered essential for a diagnosis of PTSD: intrusive flashbacks, avoidance of trauma reminders and increased startle response.

"These data may begin to explain sex-specific differences in PTSD diagnosis, symptoms and fear physiology," Ressler and his colleagues wrote in their report, published Wednesday in Nature.

Women are known to have a higher risk of a range of anxiety disorders. But the finding of elevated PACAP in women with PTSD did more than offer a biological explanation for the gender difference; it pointed to a novel biological pathway underlying the brain's response to fear.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov112010

Playing Tetris Could Help Reduce Flashbacks, Study Says

Photo Courtesy - Nintendo(OXFORD, England) -- Playing Tetris after traumatic events could help reduce painful flashbacks similar to those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study by scientists at Oxford University.

Tetris, the classic computer puzzle game developed in the mid-1980s, challenges players to evenly stack blocks of different shapes and sizes as they move slowly down the computer screen.  Emily Holmes, the study's lead researcher at Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry, said her team thinks that the image-driven nature of the game gives it a kind of anti-flashback property.

"We think it works because it's competing with resources with the same kind of visual memory that would otherwise make a visual flashback, because flashbacks themselves are strong images," she said.

In a previous study involving Tetris, Holmes and her team showed that the game could reduce flashbacks when played by a healthy volunteer after a traumatic event.  But Holmes said that this new study sheds more light on why games like Tetris could help alleviate PTSD symptoms.

In the recent study, published in this week's issue of the journal PLoS ONE, the scientists asked 60 healthy volunteers to watch a video featuring traumatic images, including clips highlighting the dangers of drunk driving.  After waiting 30 minutes, 20 volunteers played Tetris for 10 minutes, 20 volunteers played the word-based game Pub Quiz Machine 2008 for the same amount of time and 20 volunteers did nothing.

The researchers found that those who played Tetris after the video experienced fewer flashbacks than those who did nothing, while those who played Pub Quiz Machine experienced more flashbacks than participants who didn't do anything.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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