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How Can Healthcare Professionals Better Treat PTSD?
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How Can Healthcare Professionals Better Treat PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by traumatic life events that a person has difficulty recovering from. This condition is often caused by terrifying and life-threatening events, such as natural disasters, assault, and war. According to Sidran Institute, a traumatic stress and advocacy non-profit organization, 70% of Americans experience a traumatic event at least once, and 20% develop PTSD as a result.

While other wheelchair users must overcome many barriers such as limited access to buildings, those with PTSD experience different emotional challenges. As PTSD-afflicted wheelchair users cope with the difficulties that come with a physical disability, daily tasks can become psychologically taxing. If a veteran’s mobility suddenly changes because of a military injury, their emotional and psychological wellbeing may be severely damaged.

With more than 13 million people, or about 5% of the U.S. population, facing PTSD, it’s important that the condition be treated in order to resolve the symptoms, which can be debilitating. Although healthcare professionals currently use various trauma-focused psychotherapies, as well as medications to treat the condition, they should continue to go back and reassess treatment options that can better serve their patients.

PTSD in the U.S.

For wheelchairs users affected by PTSD, activities in their day to day routine can trigger severe symptoms. It’s important for wheelchair users to recognize these symptoms and reach out to others for support. Symptoms of PTSD often fall into three different clusters: re-living the event, avoiding reminders of the event, and constantly being on guard or hyperarousal. Prolonged trauma is capable of altering a person’s normal brain chemistry, affecting both their physical and mental health.

PTSD often affects people who have experienced or witnessed a violent act, or are survivors of:

  • Domestic violence
  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Other physical assault or random acts of violence
  • Childhood abuse
  • Plane crashes, car accidents, or industrial accidents
  • Natural disasters or terrorist attacks
  • Combat veterans
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • Emergency medical service workers, firefighters or police
  • A sudden death of a family member or friend

Women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men — a statistic that may have to do with the rates at which women are raped around the world. Women who are raped experience a 49% chance of developing PTSD; for context, nearly one-third of all service persons in the ongoing Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts face PTSD.

Although PTSD is mainly associated with life-threatening or horrific events, it can also be caused somewhere as seemingly safe as the classroom, or in the workplace. Children who are picked on in school can develop PTSD later on; and in the workplace, adults who endure a pattern of verbal or physical harassment often experience PTSD as well.

Although these areas should always be a safe space for people to learn and make a living, people often get away with bullying. Workplace bullying can take the form of physical assault, or can even be an undermining or humiliation scenario. Any of these situations can be scarring, and cause employees to risk PTSD later on.

PTSD can be debilitating for a lot of people, and when diagnosed, people who deal with the condition can be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With treatment and psychotherapy, those with PTSD may recover and can get back to leading a somewhat normal life. However, this depends on the effectiveness of the treatment. Anyone who faces PTSD should seek help in treating it as soon as possible, as it often doesn’t go away on its own and can be more easily treated the sooner you seek help.

Healthcare Professionals Treating PTSD

Adjusting to life in a wheelchair can be extremely difficult, especially for military veterans with PTSD. Healthcare professionals are improving the lives of those with PTSD with a wide variety of mental health treatments. Currently, there are a few different ways to treat PTSD, including:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, which eases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, that works to modify negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotional responses associated with psychological distress.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which is a psychological treatment that reduces the stress of traumatic events through eye movements.
  • Prolonged exposure therapy, which involves confronting your triggers by learning to face them and easing your anxiety.

Although these treatments exist and can prove effective, it really varies on the person and how severe their PTSD is. However, it’s important to seek treatments outside of the standard in order to help those who are not responding to typical treatments.

Healthcare professionals with Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers must be exceptionally well trained to handle these cases and should be aware of every treatment method possible. Unfortunately, the complex system has a limited budget of around 68 billion dollars for over 1,000 centers and 9 million vets, leaving the VA with limited resources to successfully treat veterans with PTSD.

One potentially effective treatment for PTSD is the use of cannabidiol or CBD in patients. CBD binds to receptors in a person’s brain, causing it to release neurochemicals like serotonin. It can also help to treat the effects of PTSD, such as anxiety, lack of sleep, or loss of appetite. Unfortunately, because CBD is illegal at the federal level, this treatment is not allowed in every state. However, healthcare professionals should move to incorporate it nationwide.

Another treatment that is being explored for PTSD is virtual reality (VR). Charles Small, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago uses VR to expose veterans to elements of their trauma, including smells, sights, and sounds that trigger the events that caused their PTSD. Exposing veterans’ senses to these sensations in a controlled environment can help them to overcome their fears. However, this style of treatment should not be forced on anyone, as it can be too much for some individuals to handle.

PTSD is a difficult condition for people to deal with, and treatment is extremely important to helping individuals facing PTSD improve their lives. Living in fear of common sounds or situations should not be the norm, and by seeking alternative methods for treatments, healthcare professionals can assist people in overcoming their PTSD.

Coping with the trauma of PTSD and adjusting to a different form of mobility can be very difficult for many wheelchair users. With support from loved ones and the right mental health treatment, wheelchair users with PTSD can lead a healthy and happy life.

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