June is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, and in honor of those afflicted, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs is striving to assist as many people as possible.
Dr. Joel Vogt, a licensed psychiatrist and section chief of Community Mental Health and Recovery working out of the Clarksburg branch of the VA, said that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a result of traumatic events, such as vehicle accidents or sexual assault that lead to future or prolonged trauma later on in life after the incident.
"A lot of veterans suffer from PTSD," Vogt said in an interview. "It's a big part of what we do here at the VA clinic."
There are many types of symptoms of PTSD including intrusive symptoms such as memories, nightmares and flashbacks or avoidance symptoms such as withdrawal from friends and family or social activity. There can also be alterations in thinking or mood or changes in arousal such as being constantly on-guard and hyper-vigilant, having trouble sleeping and irritability.
Vogt said that when dealing with this level of severe trauma, the brain re-wires and is more sensitive to potential danger.
"I compare it to an alarm that goes off too easily," he explained. "It's sort of like when you get too close to a car and the alarm goes off."
Medications such as anti-depressants and some blood pressure medicines can treat some of the symptoms and help patients sleep better and have fewer nightmares. Pyscho-therapy is also an option, as is group-cycle therapy. Clinics such as the VA's also offer residential treatment which is a series of group sessions and classes that provide patients with mutual support.
"There is not a great amount of research out there," Vogt said. "It's hard to control and hard to predict when the symptoms come back, as many times they do. Some go months or years without an incident and then all of a sudden they return."
"There seems to be a spike recently in Vietnam War veterans who are entering retirement. Sometimes keeping your mind active is the best defense against the trauma, and if you let it wander sometimes the symptoms can come back."
Technology is catching up with the disorder, however. Patients who are in need of treatment, but travel to and from treatment is not feasible can try tele-psychiatry or virtual care treatment.
"This is especially good for people in the Tucker County area, for example." said Wesley Walls, public affairs officer for the VA in Clarksburg. "They can go to the VA Center closest to them and receive therapy treatment via the Internet."
For more information about PTSD or the VA check out www.clarksburg.va.gov or 304-623-3461 ext 3590 for the VA clinic in Clarksburg, or call 304-478-2219 for the Tucker County VA office.
PTSD does not only affect those in the military, but also many civilians as well. Teresa George, a licensed psychologist working with the Women's Aid in Crisis office in Elkins, said that her staff provides individual therapy and support group sessions for their clients.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, unprovoked intense fear or anger, and exposure to triggers, which are anything that reminds the victim of their traumatic experience. Triggers can be noises, voices, smells, even something such as the time of year.
"It is important that people recognize that everyone can have these symptoms if exposed to any trauma." George said. "It is very common and it is not something to be ashamed of. There is treatment available."