Veteran Family Mental Wellbeing Series – Episode 3: PTSD

– Our research is very much interested in the biological underpinnings. In other words, what
goes wrong in the brain when someone has PTSD? The changes that we see in
the brain are very real. People think just because you can't actually see a physical break, that there is nothing wrong. Now if you look at someone with Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder, what happens is they lose neurons in three
very specific locations in their brain. So the loss of neurons
which we absolutely see, explains a lot about
the symptoms that we see in people with post
traumatic stress disorder. What we also see over time, is a gradual disruption
of some very important neurochemicals in the brain, in particular those that
control the brain's excitatory, and inhibitory processes. And of course that
happens as a consequence of the loss of neurons. Post traumatic stress
disorder is essentially a collection of symptoms
that one experiences after a significant traumatic event. These can include hypervigilance, it can include flashbacks, it can include sleep disturbances, but also cognitive symptoms such as memory loss, attention and concentration problems. – Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is really made up of four symptom groups. And really, the basis of PTSD, is being, having re-experiencing memories of particularly traumatic events where these memories
continue to come back to you. And they come back involuntarily, and they're associated with attempts to try and push them away
or not think about them, a sense of being keyed-up or on edge and on the lookout for signs of danger, and a sense of being shut
down and disconnected from other people and
disinterested in other activities. – So some people may have
more somatic symptoms where they have
hypervigilance, racing heart, they might have sweaty palms, it really affects their
normal everyday life, whereas another person may
react a little bit differently. They may have more cognitive changes, memory disturbance, sleep disturbance, concentration and attention. And whilst they are
all the same condition, often it's very hard to basically
link those two together. – PTSD rarely exists on it's own. It's often associated
with problems in anxiety, depression, and not uncommonly, substance abuse of some kind or another, commonly, most commonly, alcohol problems. – An individual, following
a traumatic event, has psychological distress symptoms, but these cannot be
diagnosed or classified as Post traumatic stress disorder until one month has elapsed. Now that's an arbitrary time
that's been attached to it, but what it's trying to describe is that, any individual if exposed
to a horrible circumstance, requires a period of time
to psychologically adjust. – What's unique about PTSD
and veterans is essentially that the probability of PTSD in veterans is almost double that of
a civilian population. Of course you can get PTSD
just being a civilian. So you could be walking down
the street and experience a horrific car crash, and that would be enough to tip you over and for you to develop post
traumatic stress disorder. But of course, the
chance of that happening is probably a lot less than
if you are in the armed forces and you're on the front line, and you're constantly seeing
very significant events, traumatic events. – And certainly those
prolonged periods of deployment to high-threat environments, changes the way the body reacts to stress, and can often be fertile ground for PTSD in the aftermath of
further traumatic events. – Well there's a lot of
work that's being done now by the armed forces in other areas, in regards to profiling people, characteristics of people, which makes them better
suited to these type of roles, people who fit the profile of
potentially not getting PTSD. But of course these
tests, and this screening, is not foolproof. A good example of this is, you have a single person
that goes into the army, the get screened and of course they pass with flying colours. Now in the years that they're in the army, they've met a partner, they have a child, they get deployed again, and there's a context now whereby there is maybe a young
child in a traumatic event that they experience. The context for that soldier
now has completely changed. Because the trauma now, has
taken a different context, and it's much more real and
much more significant for them. – For those people who have experienced that sort of post traumatic stress, the path to recovery, the
journey that they're on, can be quite a challenging
and arduous one. – The key messages with PTSD
is that it is a real condition. And it's a condition that won't go away if someone basically says, just be brave, just get over it, you can't. It's a real condition
with real brain changes. And there is help out there, that can help both the
veteran who is affected, and of course the immediate family, and that's very, very important. – With the right work in the right ways with the right people, people can move to a more resilient emotional and mental space than they were before. – It needs to be understood
and acknowledged that PTSD causes enormous distress, for the veteran themselves
but also for their families. We do have services out there for veterans and for their families who can make a big difference in terms of reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and a general sense of wellbeing.

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