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Monday, July 23, 2012

PTSD Surviving A Horrible Event Like The Theater Massacre In Aurora Colorado

Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado
Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Horrific events happen daily in our country. For that matter horrific events happen daily worldwide. Keep in mind an horrific event does not need to be a major event like what we are watching unfold as a result of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. On the contrary, it can be very personal events like a car accident, a work accident, exposure to ongoing war efforts, an unexpected illness or death of a loved one, physical abuse or sexual abuse, however, what we do understand is that the human mind can take these kinds of events and result in one suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Over the years experts have continued to study PTSD. They have come to understand that if the survivors of an horrific event do not understand PTSD and do not seek help they may develop depression and substance abuse disorders.  Many sufferers of PTSD are not aware of what is happening to them. They instinctively know something is not quite right, but they are not cognizant of the medical diagnosis and may not know how to reach out for help.  

It is important to remember that not all people who witness an horrific event will develop PTSD. As Dr. Michael First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, told Fox News:
“The most common reaction to a traumatic experience is not PTSD [as people may think], but actually the increased use of alcohol or other drugs, and depression,” First said. “It’s understandable; people want to numb themselves and self-medicate.”

In addition, for anyone who was already suffering from a mental or physical condition, such as depression, the event could exacerbate it.

“Most mental disorders can be made worse with stress, and this is about as stressful as an experience as anyone could have,” First said. “There’s a strong link between the mind and the body, so I think people can expect a rough time after this and need to be on the lookout for any condition being worse.”

A smaller proportion of the witnesses may go onto develop PTSD, a debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience. A person’s likelihood of developing PTSD is mainly due to their own predisposition to the disorder, according to First. The risk may be greater if the person has a family or personal history of mood and anxiety disorders.

“A lot of it is just natural factors -- certain people are just more predisposed,” First said. “We can’t predict in advance who’s going to develop it, but we do know only a minority of people do, so that’s the good news.”

It’s important not to confuse normal reactions to a traumatic event with something more serious, like PTSD, First added.

“It’s very normal for people to have a bad reaction after trauma like this,” he said. “People shouldn’t get too upset if they are having bad dreams and can’t get [the event] out of their head or have trouble functioning in the days after. That’s not a warning sign for PTSD; that’s normal. In a severe trauma, it’s normal to have a severe reaction.”

However, if these trauma symptoms persist for months afterward, it is time to seek help.

WNEP (ABC Affiliate) from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA interviewed Doctor Joseph Boscarino, a psychologist at Geisinger Medical Center, regarding dealing with PTSD following a tragic event:

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

In the meantime, we will keep all the victims of the Aurora, CO, massacre in our prayers and thoughts. We are hopeful that those needing help will have the strength to reach out to someone and begin the process of healing.
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