My Research on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I have chosen to discuss PTSD as my mental disorder due to a documentary television show that I have seen pretty recently “Weediquette. While that name may seem pretty childish and taboo, the show speaks on the possible positive (and negative) effects marijuana can have on society mostly for health benefits. The second episode of the series, Stoned Vets, touches on the horrors of PTSD and how it has damaged the lives of many Afghanistan War veterans. I have always known that soldiers have seen obscenities overseas but this show opened my eyes to how it affects them once they return home. The first man interviewed on the episode had divorced, lost all contact with his daughter, and was prescribed nearly forty pills to take every day by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This was due to his constant night terrors, violent mood swings, and suicidal tendencies. Everyone else who interviewed about him said that before he deployed he was “the life of the party and an impressive athlete. At the time of the episode, he had become a hermit, scared of going outside for others safety in case he goes through another emotional breakdown. He would buy groceries once every two weeks at four in the morning so he would not have to see too many strangers. The episode ends with him going back to his old ways, because he is scared to try alternatives like marijuana in fear of losing his VA membership. This episode spoke to me because of the true pain and anguish in his face, and that so many people fight for our freedom and we tend to underestimate what war can do to a person.
According to PTSD United, a “non-profit organization dedicated to providing support and resources for sufferers of PTSD” up to one in five people who have experienced a traumatic event go on to develop PTSD. It is estimated that 44.7 million are, or have, experienced PTSD. The statistics for the United States is around 8% of the population, or 24.4 million people. That is approximately the population of the state of Texas. PTSD is about twice as prevalent in women as in men, which is around one in nine women suffering from this disease. (PTSD United) PTSD can be caused by any type traumatic experience for men or women. Women are more likely than men to develop the disease from sexual assault due to there being more sexual assaults being recorded towards them than the latter. But men are more likely to acquire it from military for the same reasoning. Those are not the only major causes; it can also be acquired from serious car accidents, violent personal assaults such as a mugging, a traumatic birth, violence or severe neglect, witnessing a violent death, being held hostage, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, diagnosis of a life threatening condition, or an unexpected severe injury or death of a close family member or friend. (National Health Service UK) These are common causes, but it does not have to be bound to those. Any event someone sees as traumatic can come back to haunt them in a literal sense. PTSD is most commonly associated with returning from war in American society but it is far from the only cause.
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“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts: Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans. As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans. 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. (National Institute of Health) That is staggering, and on average veterans are 50% more likely to commit suicide than normal civilians. These men and women are seen as some of the bravest and toughest (mentally and physically) living today, and they are dying at high rates even when they return home. This statistic shows the horrors of what happens during warfare, and how crippling this disease can be. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have distinct memories of what happened overseas, and one of the first lessons learned in the military is not to complain or talk about what is bothering you. While this is effective for warfare, it is obviously detrimental to the mental states of soldiers.
Many think that they are putting their demons onto others if they opened up, even if those who try to help are begging to help them. The constant thoughts of dark memories clouds their perceptions and can make them seem distant and non-attentive. Many veterans admit to still seeing vivid images of burning and dismembered men, women, and even children. Some attest to remembering the smells of rotting and burning flesh and that can negatively affect even the most mentally stable person. While I have never been into the military or have traveled to a warzone, I can still agree when people say that it’s a different world over there. Once they return, many veterans can’t “flip the switch” back into normal society. Many see bags of leaves on sides of roads while driving and automatically brace for a roadside bomb, or even stare outside windows paranoid that people are coming to harm them and their family. I personally believe when someone takes another’s life, they lose a little of themselves too, and these men and women have do that as a profession. When soldiers go to war, they are not only possibly sacrificing their life, but also their grip of sanity.
Once again, war is not the only trigger for PTSD. Sexual assault victims can have emotional breakdowns when seeing someone who looks similar to their assaulter, or even noticing a similar setting to where the event took place. “Triggers can include sights, sounds, smells, or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event in some way. (WebMD) So what is so dangerous about PTSD is that at any unexpected time a trigger can come and the traumatic experience comes back in an extremely real way. The disease appears easier in people who already suffer from anxiety or depression, and of course those do not mix well for someone’s mental health. It changes the emotional processing in the brain, mostly the hippocampus which is responsible for memory and emotions. The hippocampus appears to be smaller in those who suffer from PTSD. Since the hippocampus is malfunctioning, it may prevent flashbacks and nightmares from being properly processed, so the anxiety they generate doesn’t tend to reduce over time. (National Health Service UK) Those diagnosed typically have the memories slowly fade over an extended period of time, but everyone is different so some may hold on to it longer than others. Or even possibly take those nightmares and flashbacks to their grave. Science has advanced our knowledge of how the brain works, but we still don’t know how to properly treat or diagnose the severity of many mental illnesses yet. Improving overall health such as dieting and exercising can help to an extent, but nothing is definite.
You cannot just take a pill and lose all of the darker thoughts of your mind. Many prescriptions are given out for treatment, which are all temporary fixes and lose their strength and effectiveness over time. Several common prescriptions given are Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. Like many pills, these are hard to kick once it is embedded into a person’s daily life. One of the leading causes of death (and rising) in the United States is opioid addiction and these anti depressors are some of the leaders in causes of overdose. When someone has a weakened mental state and these pills are the only source of relief, then it is easy to over medicate and push the boundaries. Someone can be prescribed any of these meds for one or more common symptoms. Re-experiencing, or reliving an experience that traumatized them. Making efforts to avoid places or people that remind them of the event. Feeling hyperarousal, or always being on edge and anxious. Constant negative thoughts and beliefs about people and other normal aspects of life. (Verywell Mind) All of those can be crippling to someone trying to live a healthy and happy life, but it’s a sad reality that exists.
It may seem impossible to overcome, but it’s possible to leave PTSD behind. It may never leave some completely, but the symptoms can subside and lessen over the course of time. This process can be accelerated when those diagnosed seek help who are qualified to help with mental illness, or even being more open with friends and family. Many who suffer fear that others will find them as an outcast or think that they are insane, so that’s how many cases fly under the radar until it is too late. Doctors can help with medications, but only to a certain extent. Other treatments can be affective such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. This treatment focuses on changing how someone who suffers from PTSD evaluates and responds to certain thoughts, feelings, and what are seen as unhealthy behaviors. Another option is exposure therapy which has you fully confront the damaging thoughts and situations that you fear, in order to help reduce the anxious and avoidance behaviors that stem from them. Acceptance and commitment therapy is in place to show that suffering does not come from the experience of emotional pain, but from constantly refusing to confront that pain. The overall goal is to make you more open to having more meaningful and good experiences instead of always trying to dodge the painful ones. (Verywell Mind)
Other alternative options are available for those who are open/desperate enough to branch out of the normal treatments. Many people who suffer from PTSD and have used marijuana as a substitute to prescription have seen positive results. This method is not for everyone, but for those who actively use it for its medical benefits have announced astronomical results for their quality of life. While hitting a pipe one time is not going to just kick out the negative thoughts permanently, those who use it for medication claim that it takes the “hovering cloud of dark thoughts to the back of their mind to where it is almost obsolete. When doing this you have to be smart, because certain strains of marijuana can trigger more anxiety instead of depleting it. So when self-medicating, it always better to be smart and aware of what is actually going into your body. Once again, this is not going to be a cut and dry solution for everyone experiencing PTSD, but some can have enough beneficial effects from it that they no longer have to rely on any other sources of treatment.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects millions of people every day, and can be detrimental to having a happy fulfilling life. It can change the personalities of those affected, and can even lead to depression or suicide. There are treatments, such as therapy, prescriptions, or even more experimental measures. Nothing is 100% effective and each person is going to have different things that help the anxiety and pain, but even with help it still takes time to overcome.