Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Japan

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common reaction following a traumatic event. PTSD is not just a mental health condition of war veterans, but of any person experiencing an overwhelming terrifying or tragic event such as rape, gunshot wounds, car accidents, losing a significant other, a home being destroyed by a fire or explosion or long-term exposure to a harmful event. The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder for those who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) on the other hands is a common reaction to stress and usually clears up on its own.

PTS occurs when you have a close call and survived, for instance you avoided a car crash, you survived a tornado or almost drowned in the ocean and were rescued. With PTSD your nervous symptoms don’t clear up, you remain anxious and stressed out. PTSD doesn’t have to appear immediately; it might take months or a year to appear. According to Dr. Hafeez of the PTSD Alliance, up to 30 percent of soldiers in an active war zone develop PTSD. However, the disorder affects the civilian population, with women being twice as likely as men to be affected by this anxiety disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in Minnesota, PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships and may interfere with a person’s ability to complete daily tasks.  For a PTSD diagnose, Dr. Hafeez adds, a person must have “prolonged disturbing thoughts that interfere with their normal daily lives.”

In my clinical treatment experience with Marine veterans, nightmares were very common as well as emotionally and mentally separating from friends and family. I noticed many had hypervigilance, especially when I walked behind them. Other indications included reactions to loud noises, being suddenly touched, certain smells or helicopters whirring overhead.

After four years of leading group therapy and listening to the horror stories of combat, I developed compassion fatigue, post-traumatic stress, free floating anxiety, and depression. My work with Marines suffering with PTSD meant dealing with tragic events like suicides and watching Marines be discharged for self-medicating with narcotics. It took me a few years to recover and re-wire my brain. I didn’t drink or smoke. Instead, I changed my diet, started a vigorous exercise plan and I began writing.

If you are diagnosed with PTSD, seek counseling. Check with your doctor to see if prescription medications like Zoloft or Paxil, which are antidepressant medications prescribed for anxiety, and FDA-approved specifically for PTSD, can help. During my counseling sessions at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base, I treated my patients with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) as they overlap each other and challenge trauma beliefs. I also used Critical Insight Stress Management (CISM) debriefing techniques which were helpful for group work. CISM worked immediately following a traumatic event and both CBT and RET are good for long-term therapy.

If you have PTSD, don’t hold back. You let us in, we pull you out. Reach out! Don’t wallow is self-pity. Move forward in a good, orderly direction. After a trauma, it’s common to have a back-pack filled with emotional baggage. Dump it. Get rid of it. Let it go.

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Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at www.hilaryvaldez.com or at InstantInsights@hotmail.com. Follow his YouTube channel Hilary’s Quick Talk for more insights.

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