In 2010, the U.S. Senate dedicated June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day. Four years later, it decided to designate the whole month of June as National PTSD Awareness Month. If you missed the opportunity on this day, or last month, to support the effort to destigmatize and enhance awareness of this very treatable condition, you are not alone. It appears most major traditional national media outlets missed the opportunity as well.
Thanks to local TV station KHOU, if you live in Houston, you might have heard how, on the 27th, some of the proceeds from 18 Gringo’s and Jimmy Changas restaurants went to local nonprofit, Camp Hope. In 2019, the restaurant chain raised $52,694 for Camp Hope through this annual effort. This unique, comprehensive residential facility provides peer support and mentor-based healing for veterans suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress. Since opening in 2012, more than 1,348 veterans have graduated from the Camp Hope program.
“All of it adds up and helps us save lives,” David Maulsby, Executive Director of the PTSD Foundation of America (which operates Camp Hope) tells KHOU. “We were averaging 60-65 guys living on campus, and then COVID hit and our numbers just exploded. We were having 90 to 95 guys living on campus, and while the VA and many organizations closed their doors to the veterans they’re supposed to be serving, we kept our doors open.”
If you happen to live in Grand Junction, Colorado, you might have caught KKCO TV’s visit with Kara Harmon, PTSD Clinical Team Program Manager at Western Colorado Healthcare Services. “Know that PTSD is not about weakness,” Harmon says. “It’s not about not trying hard enough. There’s actually been a physical shift that is a direct impact from the trauma experienced… We have evidence based treatments that specifically target that system. And we are able to recalibrate it to get people where they have less of the reexperiencing, less of those nightmares, less of those memories that can intrude.”
“According to a recent survey by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, over a quarter of the American population believes PTSD is untreatable and those who have it are violent, dangerous and mentally unstable. Which is a big reason why so many people suffering refuse to seek help,” reports KKCO. “The truth is PTSD is treatable, and many of those who carry a PTSD diagnosis are able to thrive with minimal, if any, clinical intervention.”
It has also been pointed out by the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America that the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person, where they begin to “mirror” some of that person’s behaviors, is creating what is now commonly called “Secondary PTSD.”
We need to be exposed to, listening to and paying close attention to such reports. At present, National PTSD Awareness Month feels a bit like an opportunity lost.
When it comes to PTSD, we cannot hear facts about it enough because you do not have to be in the military to be susceptible to it. According to a study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, post-Covid PTSD may well represent the coming “storm after the storm.”
After more than a year into a pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives and uprooted the lives of countless others, “the risks for individuals developing post-traumatic stress disorder have never been higher,” according to Tamar Rodney, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. “Through her psychiatric work in Baltimore and her research identifying the biomarkers of PTSD in veterans, Rodney has become an expert in determining the various ways we react to traumatic events,” notes an April Johns Hopkins University report.
In the past, much of the research on trauma was based around the concept of trauma being a singular event. Rodney states back in April that the pandemic has been “an escalating series of events that have impacted our social, medical, and emotional lives… It’s not just the grim final outcome of death,” she says. “There’s a fear of getting it. There’s a fear of losing connection with individuals. There’s a fear of isolation. These are sacrifices people are making on a day-to-day level which are equally traumatic compared to the virus itself.” She goes on to say that PTSD can often be delayed for months or even years after the initial trauma.
Dr. Delfina Janiri, a psychiatrist at Policlinicio Universitario Fondazione Agostino Gemelli in Italy who conducted the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry study published in February, tells CNN that they found that 30% of Covid-19 survivors experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. “If left untreated, PTSD has the potential to turn a hopeful recovery into a living nightmare,” says CNN’s Christopher Rios. “Janiri’s study included 381 patients treated at a hospital in Rome, Italy, between April and October of 2020. After recovery from infection, all patients were referred to a post-recovery care center where they received a full psychiatric evaluation.”
“They also looked for patient characteristics that increased the risk of developing PTSD,” says Rios. “The strongest predictor was persistence of three or more Covid-19 symptoms, the same symptoms described by long-Covid patients: fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, headaches, and others… Around 70% of people who reported experiencing three or more persistent medical symptoms were found to have PTSD compared to 31% for people with one or two, the study found.”
“PTSD occurring after certain hospitalizations is not a new phenomenon,” says Dr. Ronald Brenner, psychiatrist and Catholic Health’s Chairman of Behavioral Health. “As some research suggests one in five patients experiences PTSD after ICU admission… But in Covid, it is also showing up in people who had moderate to severe Covid without having to go to the ICU.”
Some experts say, based on these findings, the world should be bracing for a mental health crisis. Many are calling out for a comprehensive strategy for care. The National Institute of Mental Health is funding research to better understand post-Covid PTSD. It also must be pointed out that PTSD is not a newly recognized mental disorder. According to National Today, the disorder dates back to 50 B.C. Yet we still, as a population, neither fully understand it nor accept it as a medical condition we are all susceptible to.