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Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it,” said Jason Kander.

Jason enlisted in the Army National Guard after 9/11 and volunteered to do a tour in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer for four months. Like many veterans, he faced extremely dangerous and destructive situations that he couldn’t forget after coming home. He experienced violent nightmares every night, was always on edge and denied his symptoms until it severely impacted his daily life.

Jason isn’t alone. According to the National Center for PTSD, an estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in any given year. And according to a 2015 national survey, first responders, including police officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and emergency workers, are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide on average than other people.

Veterans, first responders and others face traumatic events every day as part of their profession. This can include accidents, such as traffic or physical accidents; assault, like physical or sexual assault, mugging or robbery or family violence; mass traumatic events, including terrorist attacks, mass shootings and severe weather events; and witnessing terrible things.

Experiencing a traumatic event can impact people in different ways. One person may perceive an event as deeply traumatic, while another person does not. A history of trauma might make some people more susceptible to later traumatic events, while other people might become more resilient.

This is why it’s critical we all know and understand the signs and symptoms of PTSD and know what to do if someone around us is struggling. Keep in mind that some people may show clear signs and symptoms of PTSD, anxiety or depression after a traumatic event, while others may not. If a person is experiencing the following symptoms four or more weeks after a trauma, encourage professional help.

  1. Are still very upset or fearful.
  2. Seem unable to escape intense, ongoing feelings of distress.
  3. Withdraw from family or friends and/or important relationships are suffering.
  4. Feel jumpy or have trauma-related nightmares.
  5. Can’t stop thinking about the trauma.
  6. Are unable to enjoy life at all.
  7. Have post-traumatic symptoms that are interfering with usual activities.

If you’re still unsure if you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD, talk to a health professional. You can also take a Mental Health First Aid course. Mental Health First Aid teaches people about warning signs and symptoms of PTSD, what to do if your loved one is struggling after a traumatic event and where to turn for peer and professional help.

After 11 years, Jason is now getting the treatment he needs to manage his mental health and PTSD symptoms. With the right information and tools, you can too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and #BeTheDifference today.