Education is Key in Fight Against PTSD

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2011 — Stem­ming the inci­dence of post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, or PTSD, requires aware­ness, edu­ca­tion and rec­og­niz­ing its symp­toms, a senior mil­i­tary psy­chi­a­trist said.
Navy Capt. Paul S. Ham­mer, direc­tor of the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury, spoke dur­ing a May 16 media round­table event held here as part of Men­tal Health Month.

avy Capt. Paul S. Hammer, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury
Navy Capt. Paul S. Ham­mer, direc­tor of the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury, spoke dur­ing a May 16, 2011, media round­table.
U.S. Navy pho­to
Click to enlarge

“[It’s impor­tant] to make sure peo­ple are aware, edu­cat­ed, and that they look for it in them­selves, their friends and fel­low ser­vice mem­bers. They must act on it so some­thing is done,” Ham­mer said.

Tak­ing action doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly call for a major inter­ven­tion, he said. “Some­times reach­ing out and talk­ing to some­one can put that per­son on the right path to get the help he needs,” he sug­gest­ed.

Rec­og­niz­ing signs of the stress dis­or­der ear­ly can be the key to suc­cess­ful­ly diag­nose and treat affect­ed indi­vid­u­als, he said.

PTSD can be a real­ly com­pli­cat­ed enti­ty,” he said. “Peo­ple think it’s one thing, but it can man­i­fest itself in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways and con­texts.”

PTSD is not gen­der-spe­cif­ic, and tell-tale signs vary from one per­son to the next, but Ham­mer said some fac­tors might add up to the stress diag­no­sis. He said it’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize such symp­toms as com­bat stress, sub­stance abuse, talks of sui­cide and depres­sion. Get­ting help begins with aware­ness and edu­ca­tion at all lev­els of the mil­i­tary, he said.

Ham­mer said post-trau­mat­ic stress was once a con­di­tion dis­cov­ered only after troops returned home fol­low­ing deploy­ments. Now, how­ev­er, the ser­vices include post-trau­mat­ic stress aware­ness instruc­tion for new recruits in basic train­ing, and warfight­ers are mon­i­tored for symp­toms dur­ing their mil­i­tary careers.

“We’ve got to take care of our­selves and take care of each oth­er,” Ham­mer said. “The idea of aware­ness is to take appro­pri­ate action and have the courage to reach out and take help.”

“The Army [incor­po­rates aware­ness] in resilience train­ing and com­pre­hen­sive sol­dier fit­ness, and by train­ing mas­ter resilience train­ers,” he added. “So there’s a huge effort among the ser­vices to real­ly devel­op a lev­el of resilience.”

Com­bat­ing the stig­ma attached to men­tal health coun­sel­ing also is taught to ser­vice mem­bers as part of the military’s aware­ness cam­paign, Ham­mer said. For many peo­ple, the long­time stig­ma is an over­whelm­ing bar­ri­er to diag­no­sis and treat­ment.

Denial of post-trau­mat­ic stress also can devel­op, which he described as a “tougher nut to crack.” Denial is a person’s per­cep­tion that peo­ple are doing fine, Ham­mer added. “They don’t want to see them­selves or be seen as weak, dam­aged or ill,” he said.

“I think huge head­way has been made on stig­ma,” he said. “You see senior offi­cers and senior enlist­ed mem­bers who are much more will­ing to speak out and talk about it. I can’t imag­ine a time, when I first came in, that I would hear a sergeant major talk about PTSD, and now it’s rou­tine.”

“No doubt the stig­ma is still out there, but we’ve still made an enor­mous amount of progress,” Ham­mer said. “But there’s more to do. We’re not rest­ing on our lau­rels. We’re still work­ing on it.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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