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Friday, July 6, 2012

PTSD The Invisible Wound

An American soldier on Memorial Day.An American soldier on Memorial Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)There is an old idiom "seeing is believing." It was first used in 1639! Basically it means only physical or concrete evidence is convincing. If we use the most basic example; let's say you have two school-aged children. One breaks his/her arm, but the other is also complaining about pain or discomfort. Our natural tendency is to tend to the one with the visible concrete injury and since the second child presents no visible outward sign of injury, we simply comfort him/her and assume they will be OK. We know what we need to do for the broken arm, but the "invisible wound" becomes an anomaly or mystery. We might just try to wish away the invisible wound.

As a society we are just beginning to wrap our "communal" arms around post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). As a malady PTSD is an invisible wound. According to the National Institute of Mental Health PTSD is defined as:
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which there was the potential for or actual occurrence of grave physical harm. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, and military combat. People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal, may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled."
Obviously, what is a terrifying event to one may not affect another...timing of the event (that is at what age the terrifying event occurs) plays into how an experience affects a person. The one year old child may have no cognitive memory of a natural disaster; however, the five year old sibling may indeed carry vivid memories of the tornado, fire, or hurricane for the rest of their lives. As the years go by, parents might often question why their two children seem so different in how they approach circumstances and deal with life events, even though most of their life experiences seem similar.  Did you ever have a conversation with three siblings who are only a couple of years apart in age? You ask them to tell you their memories of something like moving to a new community. Each one has specific and very personal recollections about the move. And it is these personal recollections that may play into one ultimately suffering from the invisible wound while the other two siblings  have grown up to become successful functioning adults.

PTSD has been in the headlines a lot over the past few years, most particularly because our American society has experienced more than a decade of war. Keep in mind PTSD is the most current name for what the medical community has documented for more than a century. During our Civil War it was called "hysteria or melancholia," during WWI it was called "shell shock," by WWII doctors called it "combat fatigue," and after  the Vietnam War, in 1980, PTSD officially became recognized as a mental health condition when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Still PTSD is considered an invisible wound but now the National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI) is urging the Pentagon to award the Purple Heart to those veterans who suffer from PTSD or other mental health injuries which are the result of combat exposure. USA Today quotes Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI's Executive Director:
"NAMI is drawing a line in the sand with the Department of Defense...Troops with invisible wounds are heroes. It's time to honor them. It will also strike a tremendous blow against the stigma that often discourages individuals from seeking help when they need it."
The NAMI report is Parity for Patriots. Take some time to read the report.

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