What is PTSD?
The recent school shooting at Parkland, Florida, is a horror movie we’ve seen too many times. No one should have to witness thousands of panicked schoolchildren and staff fleeing a deranged former student wielding a semiautomatic assault rifle.
The press has provided ample coverage of the 17 students and staff members killed at Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, and shown memorials honoring the dead.
Often overlooked, however, are the survivors — the students and teachers who cowered in dark classrooms, not knowing whether they’d live or die. They’re the uncounted casualties who frequently suffer in silence.
These survivors perceived that their lives were in imminent danger. Yet they were helpless to do anything about it.
Such experiences put them at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder. While PTSD is most commonly associated with combat veterans, it can happen to anyone who has been through an accident, disaster or other serious event.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people can even develop PTSD after a friend or family member has experienced harm — or following the unexpected death of a loved one.
Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of the trauma, but may occur years later. They include re-experiencing the trauma, hyper-arousal to surrounding stimuli, avoiding events and places associated with the trauma and depression or anxiety. They may also include flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more susceptible than men.
The NIMH lists the following risk factors for PTSD:
▪ Living through a dangerous event or trauma
▪ Getting hurt
▪ Seeing another person hurt or seeing a dead body
▪ Childhood trauma
▪ Feeling horror, helplessness or extreme fear
▪ Having little or no social support after the event
▪ Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury or loss of a job or home
▪ Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse
Treatment for PTSD includes medication and psychotherapy. Therapy can be done individually or in groups. Support from family and friends is also an important component of recovery.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to recover from a trauma
▪ Get into counseling. In San Luis Obispo County, contact the Victim Witness Assistance Center at 805-781-5821 to get a referral and financial assistance.
▪ Be physically active to relieve stress.
▪ Take good care of yourself. Eat nutritious meals. Get adequate rest. Cut back on personal and work-related activities.
▪ Avoid situations that elicit negative symptoms.
▪ Limit your exposure to the media.
▪ Be patient. Recovery will happen on its own time.
▪ Expect setbacks. Anniversaries or the news of similar incidents may trigger the recurrence of memories. Know that they will gradually abate.