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Dr. Kevin Most on PTSD

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We all throw around the acronym PTSD, so let’s understand it and know what to look for as a portion of the spectrum is probably closer than you think.

Although we know this condition has been around forever, the actual diagnosis was not officially termed until 1980. During the 70’s  we had many soldiers who had returned from Vietnam who displayed symptoms, and the term was loosely used, however the official diagnosis was penned in 1980.  The condition was named and it was defined as a mental health condition arising from an individual experiencing or watching a very traumatic episode. These patients then suffered with flashbacks of the event, anxiety, irritability , insomnia, nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts of the event

This condition is noted in servicemen coming back from a war time experience , individuals who are present during a physically or mentally devastating experience. Estimates are that 4% of US population is suffering from this disorder each year and 9% of  the population will suffer from it at one time in their lives.

With the advent of 24/7 news, cameras and video everywhere, we all can get exposed to events visually. Just a few decades ago we would have to get the news of an event in the paper or on the news sometimes a few days later. Now we get to experience many events in real time, as they are happening.

What happens because of this coverage, well it depends on each individual circumstance. If the incident you are watching hits close to home, you may feel some anxiety just watching it. As an adult we can often understand the circumstances and realize that the chance of that occurring to you is very low and thus something you won’t worry about. What about children, depending on the age, the results are different. The child that is sitting having lunch while you are watching coverage of a school shooting may not be able to grasp that the event is happening hundreds of miles away. They just see kids their age being walked out by police. In their mind it is school and they go to school therefore they could be shot when they go to school.

Often in young children this comes out in symptoms of anxiety around going to school and leaving the safety of the parent and their home. They may complain of stomach pain or just fear of leaving.

Many of The young children who saw the Twin Towers come down did not want to go to a city, they didn’t want their parents to go to work in the city. In both cases the child did not directly physically participate in the event, yet they have some of the symptoms. In children we often see the anxiety portion highlighted.  In fact 15% of children suffer from some form of anxiety disorders and this number has increased over the past 10 years.

As this is a wide spectrum in children , how do we know what to do and who needs treatment. Before we get into the treatment side, what can we do to prevent some of this. Certainly we cannot prevent all traumatic experiences, however we can limit our children’s exposure to much of it. Would you allow your grade school child to watch a R rated movie? Of course not, but think about the coverage of the Orlando shootings. Carrying bloody people in street, hearing eye witnesses talk about the shooting, hearing how we possibly missed identifying this individual. It is a R rated movie in real life. So simply, turn off theTV and wait until the child is asleep, believe me the coverage will still be on.

The easiest and first step in the treatment is to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Reinforcing the good and safe times the child has had in that same environment. Often this treatment can be done in the home by the parent. This works well with the young patient with anxiety over an event.

Some children who experience more profound symptoms may need the help of a child psychologist. These professionals will use therapy techniques to get the patient to block out bad thoughts or give them anxiety decreasing strategies to minimize the feelings.

Very few children will need extensive treatment or medication for this disorder.

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