Monday, August 20, 2007
Back to VA Tech: PTSD concerns
Today, students at Virginia Tech are scheduled to start their fall semester. It's hard to believe that only about four months ago 32 students and faculty were shot dead by a student who then killed himself.
My mind keeps drifting back to their seemingly idyllic college campus. I was one of the many journalists who came to Blacksburg in the days after the shooting. Now, I keep picturing the students walking along the pathways and rolling hills, trying to get back to normal, trying to get back to life as it was before the tragedy. As much as I can't help but think about that day, I wonder what it must be like for the students who so proudly call themselves Hokies.
Do any of them suffer from flashbacks, intense memories, nightmares, or even terror? How many of them will deal with post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is a complex condition. According to the latest research, one out of every 10 people will develop it in their lifetime. Patients can also suffer from outbursts of anger, emotional numbness, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety and sometimes survivor guilt. Often, the symptoms are triggered by sights, smells or sounds that remind a person of the trauma.
It's no surprise that most people who endure a traumatic event suffer from some symptoms of PTSD, but the effects will often subside. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, about 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women go on to develop PTSD and roughly 20 percent of those people develop a chronic lifelong form of it. The condition is associated with other ailments such as increased risk of heart disease in men.
In terms of children, Stanford researchers found that severe stress can damage a child's brain. They looked at children suffering from PTSD as result of severe abuse and found that they often suffered a decrease in the size of the hippocampus - a part of the brain involved in memory processing and emotion. What's even more startling is that this effect on the brain may make it even harder for them to process normal stress for the rest of their lives.
These days, more and more money and attention is being directed towards PTSD research, due in great part to the war. As troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, as many as 13 percent are found to have PTSD. There can be thousands more whose conditions go undiagnosed.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from post traumatic stress disorder? Do you think a person can ever fully recover? Do you think more attention needs to be paid to PTSD and other mental conditions?
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