In observance of PTSD Awareness Month: June 2014, the National Center for PTSD presents the following profile of a Veteran who is living with PTSD and turning her life around with treatment.
Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine and MST survivor Laura Hendrixon is determined to get better for her family.
Laura Hendrixon had always thought PTSD came only after combat exposure--until it happened to her. "After being in the Marines for a year and a half, I was sexually assaulted by another Marine who was also a co-worker and a friend of mine," she said. "It's embarrassing to talk about, but I don't want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger."
The trauma affected her so much that she was afraid to take a shower when she was home alone. "...I would basically be in panic mode the whole time," she said. "I would think..."Oh my gosh, I want to get a shower, but I can't get a shower because I'm home by myself, and if I'm in the shower, I'm not going to be able to hear if somebody comes in the house." I would get scared to the point that I wouldn't close my eyes when I'm taking a shower."
Laura was diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor at VA suggested she get into treatment. "I finally had a doctor point out to me that, you know, it would be really good if I went through this treatment," she recalled. "I knew I needed to do it because I can't wait to have kids, and I was like, "I cannot be this person with kids. I'm going to, like, wrap them up in bubble wrap."
Laura's treatment at VA was a form of talk therapy called Prolonged Exposure (PE). In PE, the goal is for the patient to have less fear about her memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. By talking about her trauma repeatedly in a safe environment with a therapist, the patient learns to get control of her thoughts and feelings about the trauma. She learns that she does not have to be afraid of her memories.
"I made a list of things I needed to be able to do: make left-hand turns, ride in an elevator, go somewhere by myself, get showers. It's like, I need to learn how to deal with this stuff, now," she explained. "It was very difficult at first. I had to go back to that moment and, you know, describe exactly how I felt, and emotions and fears, and everything about the moment. It did get easier. You actually record yourself, and then you listen to it, so in some way it tricks your brain into accepting that this did happen to me and, you know, I'm going to be OK, and it's going to get better."
Laura also credits her husband for much of the progress she has made. "My husband is a lifesaver," she said. "We're going to counseling together, and they're helping us talk through some of the daily struggles that I have with PTSD. He's so good for me; he encourages me to do things I'm not comfortable with. I definitely plan to keep moving forward with it. I'm always thinking, like, "Just do it!" I can do all kinds of stuff."
You can see the entire AboutFace video profile of Laura Hendrixon on YouTube.
For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness of this mental health problem during June and throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit our PTSD Awareness page.
When the President makes an announcement, you know it must be about something big. On August 10, 2013, President Obama announced at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Orlando, Florida, a $107 million grant to research the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) over a five-year period. Of this amount, $45 million will be provided to the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP), co-led by the National Center for PTSD and the STRONG STAR Consortium at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
"I don't think we've ever gotten anything this big in one grant," said Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, Senior Advisor to the Center and its former Executive Director. "$25 million of the $45 million will go to support research at VA sites, and there are a number of projects embedded in that." CAP Co-Director Terence Keane, Director of the Center's Behavioral Science Division, noted that these research projects are designed to answer many critical questions about PTSD.
"Is combat-related PTSD uniquely different and more difficult to treat?" he gave as one example.
"Would outcomes improve with early interventions delivered soon after trauma exposure? Can combat-related PTSD be cured? Few national health crises are more deserving of the greatest efforts of the world's top scientists to answer these questions."
These research initiatives will include efforts to learn more about the development of PTSD, including biomarkers of PTSD, treatment response (to inform diagnosis, prediction of disease outcome,) and new or improved treatment methods.
"Our programmatic capability will be expanded through this very important CAP partnership," Friedman said. "One of the Center's top operational priorities is biomarker research, and this will certainly be a big boost to that priority. We would also like to leverage this money and expertise to compete for additional money for other projects."
Many outstanding research organizations throughout the United States vied for this award. "The competition for the award was extraordinary," said Friedman. "It's clear that there are now a number of superb groups conducting research on PTSD in the United States. The fact that the National Center for PTSD came out on top with STRONG STAR is wonderful, but people should not lose sight of the fact that there is outstanding research being done elsewhere, and we will continue to collaborate with those who are doing this research."
For more information, visit www.ConsortiumToAlleviatePTSD.com
On February 19, 2014, former President George W. Bush, speaking at a summit he convened on Veterans' issues, said that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been mislabeled as a "disorder" and that calling it just "post-traumatic stress" would go a long way in erasing the stigma that affects many returning Veterans. See Bush wants change in how PTSD is handled (The Dallas Morning News, February 19, 2014) In this story, Dr. Matthew Friedman, Senior Advisor to the National Center for PTSD and its former Executive Director, disagreed with the former president, stating:
Others, including some doctors and high-ranking military officials, previously called for such a change, The Dallas Morning News noted. In 2011, then-Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli asked the American Psychiatric Association to drop "disorder" from the term posttraumatic stress disorder in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In his November 3, 2011 letter to Gen. Chiarelli, APA President Dr. John Oldham, disagreed, stating:
"...it is our belief that merely changing the diagnostic label of PTSD will not solve the problem. In fact, the distinction between posttraumatic stress and PTSD is very important and useful in terms of prompt diagnosis and treatment, as people can (and often do) recover from PTSD."
At the APA's annual conference in 2012, Dr. Friedman and Gen. Chiarelli addressed this issue on the same panel. Dr. Friedman, who chaired the committee that updated the trauma section of the fifth revision of the DSM (DSM-5, released May 2013), said the net effect of such a modification would be to tinker with a psychiatric diagnosis rather than help patients. Instead, he suggested the U.S. military consider the Canadian military's approach. The Canadian military coined the term "Operational Stress Injury (OSI)" for, among other things, combat-related PTSD. See Key Psychiatric Doctor Rejects Name Change for PTSD (PBS, May 10, 2012)