Friday, April 15, 2016

What is PTSD?

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? It is a psychological and physiological response to extreme traumatic stress, often times involving actual or threatened death, either being involved in or exposed to. In essence, when the body experiences that type of severe traumatic stress, it can in some instances overwhelm the mind and body’s ability to cope with that type of stress. It kind of causes a breakdown in the individual’s ability to essentially manage stress-type symptoms. So, what it often times causes is a person to experience a constant state of being stressed. Those stress functions of the mind and body are constantly activated. It is kind of like having your foot on the gas pedal all the time.

As a result of that it can cause increasingly severe symptoms which are sort of the hallmark characteristic symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Those are very common and they include, amongst other things, intrusive thoughts and that can be anything from traumatic or disturbing nightmares, it can be unwanted thoughts that pop up in response to innocent or innocuous triggers. You could be walking down the street and you see a car that reminds you of some terrible, traumatic incident you were involved in. It shouldn’t trigger a traumatic response but it does because you have associated that type of thing with the traumatic event.

It can also involve things that are known as flashbacks and that is a dissociative response where you feel as though the incident is actually happening again. It can last for a few seconds up to several hours. That can be anything from briefly smelling smells that you experienced at the time or hearing some of the sounds you experienced at the time. Those are some of the cardinal symptoms associated with PTSD. In addition to that there is also the avoidance symptom, where in essence, you actively attempt to avoid thinking about or experiencing the memories associated with the traumatic event. That can be anything from having difficulty talking about the event or experiencing severe distress when you are discussing the event. It can also involve avoiding people, places, or things that are associated with the traumatic event. So, for example in the context of law enforcement, hearing sirens may cause a sense of panic or a sense of upset. Seeing colleagues in their uniform being reminded of that traumatic event, trying to avoid crowds for instance. So, it’s avoiding people, places, things that are associated with the traumatic event.

In addition to that there is also the feelings or negative moods that are experienced as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder that can include, particularly in law enforcement, a sense of a shortened future - you feel like your number is going to be up. You can feel, in particular, guilt or shame associated with the traumatic event, thinking had I done something differently maybe the outcome would be different. Feeling dissociated from family, friends, loved ones; no longer enjoying things you used to like to do, so negative moods.

In addition to that there is the cardinal symptom associated with PTSD which is the hyper-vigilance or hyper-arousal and that is tied to being in a constant state of stress and that can include a heightened startle response. You are a lot more jumpy – you hear a sound or a loud noise and it startles you much more than it normally should. It may be feelings of constantly being on edge, you feel like something bad is going to happen around every corner so with our law enforcement we often hear them say they go into a room and they immediately scan to see if there is any danger in the area. People will report that they lock their doors 7 times at night before they go to bed and we even occasionally have people say that they sleep with a knife under their pillow, so those would be examples of that hyper-vigilance or hyper-arousal.

It can also include things like reckless or irrational behavior and that is not uncommon, unfortunately, taking risk- taking behavior, so driving at excessive speeds, often times this can turn into a situation where there is alcohol abuse; run-ins with the law, things with that sort of risk-taking behavior. It can also involve increased irritability. A lot of times, people will report they started blowing up at their family a lot – ‘I was getting really angry over small things.’ It’s an increased outburst in response to relatively smaller stressors and that is a very very common symptom associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to that, difficulty concentrating, you can’t keep focus because you are constantly on alert; difficulty falling asleep particularly because your mind is always racing; difficulty staying asleep and obviously if your sleep is already being interrupted by traumatic nightmares it just compounds the issue.

In essence, those symptoms typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder ultimately become very distressing or they ultimately become impairing from a social context, so they interfere with your social relationships. Perhaps they are causing a strain on your marriage or causing difficulty with interactions with your kids.

Or they ultimately result in difficulty in performing your job duties and in the context of law enforcement that comes out where officers will start being concerned about their abilities to safely and effectively carry out their duties as a result of these symptoms.

Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation case evaluation and consultation. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. take the time with each client to help determine which benefits our state’s first responders are entitled to when injured on the job, as well as discuss PERA Duty Disability, PTSD, and Healthcare Continuation Benefits eligibility.
Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.

Jennifer Yackleyby Jen Yackley
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