Each June, America celebrates PTSD Awareness Month. More than any year in recent memory, those suffering from this invisible disorder need our attention and compassion.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, which we all know as PTSD, is a debilitating mental disorder that often leads to symptoms of social withdrawal and avoidance, which may only be exacerbated during the ongoing global pandemic.
With this in mind, the question becomes a simple mantra many of us flock to in these times: what can I do to help?
Why do we celebrate PTSD Awareness Month?
Starting ten years ago, Senator Kent Conrad began a push to get an official PTSD day of awareness in honor of fallen Staff Sergeant Joseph Biel after he took his own life. In 2014 this was further implemented, with Congress designating the entire month of June PTSD Awareness Month.
SSgt. Biel’s death serves as a painful reminder of the way veterans’ mental health is neglected by society at large, and as an indicator of a significant underlying problem.
According to official stats from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, upwards of 10% of all veterans have PTSD in a given year.
Although it is commonly linked with veterans of military service, the reality is that anyone of any walk of life or socioeconomic status can develop PTSD after something traumatic. Nearly 10% of Americans will develop PTSD over the course of their life, again according to the VA.
The most important thing we can do, as a society, is to raise awareness about the truth of this treatment, its symptoms, and its causes. Anything we can do to reduce the hurtful stigma of this mental health condition may save lives.
Just how debilitating is PTSD?
“I’d become catatonic and wouldn’t get out of the house or speak,” explained Jim, a PTSD survivor and patient at Revitalist clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee. He continued, “I wasn’t speaking so much that my voice was so weak.”
Jim is one of the millions of people worldwide who developed PTSD after going through particularly traumatic events. For Jim, PTSD was preventing him from attending to his basic life, and no treatment seemed to help.
Jim explained that he had tried “a series of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety medications,” to no avail. “I had tried over 20 different antidepressants and SSRIs and SNRIs, both combinations, with all the other new medications but none had worked.”
A life-changing experience came for Jim when his sister introduced him to Revitalist and ketamine infusion treatment.
“With the ketamine consultation, I was so depressed I don’t remember much from that day,” he recalls regarding his first visit to Revitalist. “I just answered some questions on a questionnaire, is all I remember. And I remember Katie [Walker, Lead Nurse Anesthesiologist at Revitalist] looking at me and saying that they could help me.
I trusted them because I was so vulnerable, I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I was at the end of my limit with pain, and I wanted it just to end. And I did the treatment, a series of six [infusions] over a two-week period. I didn’t realize it was a series of six sessions – intense sessions, where a lot of the trauma and things I had seen over the last five years, particularly the loss of my wife, that it was going to bring back all the bad things that I had seen. What I’d done is repressed them and pushed them so far down that I had never dealt with the trauma. And then I never dealt with the deaths, because of that, and I never could grieve.
And it was hard work, it was tough and it was painful, but not more painful than what I’d been in for six years of misery, of drinking, and depression. But it pulled me out, it immediately took away the desire to die.
And it saved my life. Not only did it save my life, it made me wanna live again and help people.”
What can I do to help?
Listen, but don’t force anyone with PTSD to talk about something they’re not comfortable with.
Helplines like the SAMHSA National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – operate around the clock to help provide information and resources to those in need.
Perhaps, most importantly, we can work together as a society to make better treatments more readily available and easily accessible.
Dave, another patient at Revitalist, is one of many who believe that treatments like ketamine infusion therapy are the future of mental health treatment.
“If what you’re doing isn’t working the way you need it to work, then you owe it to yourself to look at other options”, he said. “I wholeheartedly believe that if I hadn’t agreed to come down here and agreed to do the first initial six treatments, I wouldn’t be here.
It’s a new world. There’s alternatives.”
If you ask Dave – and we did – the obstacle facing those in need of ketamine treatment is the lack of coverage or support from larger institutions. “If the state doesn’t recognize it, back you on it, how are you ever gonna get the insurance company to say ‘hey, maybe we need to help these people out?’”
One thing we can all agree on: the first step in reducing the rate of PTSD requires raising awareness for those in need. We need to express our support, both for individuals we know and the strangers we don’t. Society as a whole needs to band together to help heal those who need it most.