October 17, 2018
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PTSD: Your Questions Answered

Maya Pottiger
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June 12, 2018

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. Though it may seem simple to understand, PTSD can manifest inside a person in a variety of ways.

The Chesapeake Life Center, a branch of Hospice of the Chesapeake, offers many services for those suffering from or who have family members suffering from PTSD.

To weigh in on PTSD awareness, the Chesapeake Life Center’s Amy Stapleton and Hospice communications specialist Elyzabeth Marcussen spoke with the Voice. Stapleton is the manager of bereavement services at the Chesapeake Life Center, and in addition to being a licensed clinical professional counselor, Stapleton is certified as a trauma-informed clinician.

Q: What are different ways PTSD can affect a person?

Stapleton: People are going to manifest it differently. It’s going to vary based on their age, their relationship to the deceased, the experiences of the traumatic event. Were they there or did they hear about it or did they come into proximity of the event itself?

Things they can do to help are reach out, don’t isolate. Find places to connect, whether that’s through the community, a mental health professional, groups. From a clinical standpoint, some of the things we encourage clients to do are to pay attention to their own personal health. We make sure we’re giving support to them and getting them back to their regular routine, which involves sleeping, exercising and remembering to do the simple things like drink water, just that basic functioning that gets disturbed when someone is in an acute traumatic state.

Q: I think a myth about PTSD is that it only affects those who have been to war. Is that true?

Stapleton: I’m so glad you brought up that question. I think you’re right that often we associate PTSD with veterans or experiences of war. But really, PTSD is a traumatic witnessing of an event and can leave anyone feeling vulnerable. What that event could be could range from a sudden death or it could be an accident, a community tragedy, an overdose loss, finding someone after a suicide death. It’s not just witnessing or experiencing the event that can lead to a traumatic response, but it can also be the meaning that someone attaches to that event. For example, a lot of what we do here with clients is to really validate their experience of a death being traumatic. There’s deeper acknowledgement of “you’re not crazy, there’s nothing wrong, this is a natural reaction to trauma.” Being able to define it that way for clients has become very important.

At the Chesapeake Life Center, we focus on a strength-based approach, and that means to normalize the experience, to not make their experience wrong. Sometimes people come in and they say, “Well, why do I feel this way? I haven’t been to war, I haven’t experienced the same trauma or horrors.” It can still have a lasting impact. That traumatic event can really jar us and shake us at our core.

Trauma really impacts daily functioning. It impacts someone's ability to function in their life. As we’re better able to manage those symptoms, then we’re able to get to the true experiences of grief. But we have to address the trauma of it first.

Q: Are there any other myths about PTSD you want to address?

Marcussen: I think one of the things that you see in movies, the way that we tend to dramatize things, is that it always involves some loud sounds. That’s not the case at all. That’s kind of a minority. It’s actually insidious. It can really manifest in quiet ways, and your routine is changed, and it’s not this big moment. It’s can be rather inward, if anything.

Stapleton: That’s a great point. Sometimes we hear PTSD and we think of the most extreme cases, or we think of people that are incredibly wounded and vulnerable and on edge all the time. As Elyzabeth said, it can be a very inward and isolating experience, and it’s often hard to talk about. People dismiss their own experience with it.

Q: Can PTSD be cured in the same way a cold can?

Stapleton: [When someone comes to me], I’m going to address the symptoms that they’re experiencing. That might be avoidance. That might be recurring thoughts about the death or a personalization of it, like, “Could I have said or done anything different?” I don’t think of it as something to be cured, I think that trauma is something to be acknowledged and supported. That’s our goal here at the Life Center is to help people better manage the symptoms that come with traumatic loss and experiences.

Q: What services do you provide at the Chesapeake Life Center?

Stapleton: We offer a variety of options, starting with our individual counseling services for children, young adults and adults. We also offer family counseling sessions where, whether they be parents or guardians of the children, can come in together and we process the traumatic event. We offer ongoing groups on a regular basis. Some of those groups are specific to a type of loss, like loss due to substance overdose or use; loss due to suicide; and then we also offer a child loss group and individual programs on a monthly basis for children and teens.

For more information on services provided by the Chesapeake Life Center, visit www.hospicechesapeake.org/family-support/about-chesapeake-life-center.

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