Living with trauma: PTSD and our Valley Populous Part II

Last week, in collaboration with my very good friend and colleague, Mr. Juan Hernandez, M.ed., LPC, we presented part I of an article on Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD); causes and effects of which play a most important role in maintaining mental health.

This week, in continuation with part II; we present information to you on this most pressing condition that affects so many of our Lower Rio Grande persons…Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).

The symptoms of PTSD have been know since the time of the ancient Greeks, and has had many names attached to the disorder…”Shell Shock,” etc; and was most often attributed to military veterans. It was not until the 1980’s that the term PTSD became used; as more was learned about the disorder as a consequence of extreme stress and stressful events.

It is known that 70 percent of the U.S. populations have experienced some type of traumatic event in their lives…approximately 223.4 million. About 20 percent of these individuals go on to develop PTSD; 44.7 million who were, or are, struggling with PTSD.

An estimate 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-54 (5.2 million) have PTSD during the course of a given year. Among our Military Veterans, almost 31 percent of Vietnam Veterans; 10 percent of Desert Storm Veterans and 11 fpercent of Veterans of the Afghanistan war are experiencing PTSD symptoms.

In our Lower Rio Grande Valley locale, there are an estimated 36,000 individuals suffering from PTSD; 78,000, 7.8 percent; will experience PTSD during the course of their lives. Most of these individuals will go untreated for their condition.

Gang violence has increased the risk for many individuals and their families along our border area, and the aftermath has been most devastating. Illustrative of this is the case of Cameron.

Cameron was a 32 year old, married male; employed as a police officer for the past 4 years. He was referred to counseling for depression and excessive alcohol consumption. During the first visit, Cameron stated in a bland tone, “if you had to see what I see every day, you’d be drinking too.” His wife added, “he can’t sleep at night, he’s restless, and wakes up shouting or crying.”

Cameron admitted getting angry and caused arguments and fighting at home and work. After a level of trust was established, he opened up and without emotion said, “It’s been bad now for few months. I keep thinking it’s my fault that my partner got killed, that I could’ve done something.” Both had been dispatched to assist with confronting a dangerous gang noted for violence and drug dealing. Cameron was clearly suffering from PTSD.

Mental health professionals along the US-Mexico border are now tasked with developing and providing effective evaluation, assessment, and evidenced based treatment for individuals who meet criteria for PTSD due to experiencing life threatening events. Men, women, and children directly exposed to drug wars, displacement, kidnapping, torture, mass killings, physical and sexual abuse are increasingly found in police stations, hospitals, detention centers, and mental health facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.

In addition, First responders, law enforcement, and health professionals are also affected by trauma directly or indirectly causing mental and physical distress sometimes leading to burnout. Success in treating and managing PTSD requires understanding the staggering effect of PTSD on relationships, health, work, and self-esteem, and society. It also includes advocacy for funding and research to better serve those diagnosed with PTSD living in the Rio Grande Valley.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Not everyone experiencing a traumatic event will get PTSD. With adequate support and intervention, some individuals can recover within a month.

However, problematic symptoms may continue in some cases requiring an evaluation by a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Advanced Practice Nurse, Licensed Professional Counselor, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker to make a diagnosis of PTSD.

Once diagnosed, an individual with PTSD can begin receiving treatment interventions like medication, psychotherapy, and support services. A medical doctor can prescribe medication for depression, anxiety, and nightmares. Psychotherapists can provide evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD like Prolonged Exposure, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) lists several evidence-based psychotherapies for children at risk or with PTSD like Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) and Culturally Modified Trauma-Focused Treatment (CM-TFT). Recently, some medical facilities in the U.S. have been using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for the treatment of PTSD; the application of pure oxygen for the patient, and which has shown possible success to alleviate symptoms.

Equally important is family and community resources offering ongoing psycho-social and interpersonal support. Unfortunately, barriers exist in accessing and sustaining recovery.

Michael Lohmuller, a Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported in 2014 on PTSD in Civilian populations that resemble the Rio Grande Valley. He wrote about the increase of violent injuries and risk factors for PTSD in two major US cities, “ At a broad level, these Atlanta and Chicago communities have much in common with their Mexican counterpart: they are extremely poor, are plagued by inequality and violent crime, and have limited access to hospitals or mental health services.” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs. August 22, 2014).

Similarly, the Texas Tribune published an article in January 19, 2016 identifying Cameron, Willacy, and Hidalgo counties as among the poorest in the state, and Anyone living in the Rio Grande Valley since 2006 has witnessed the escalating violence in Matamoros and Reynosa Tamaulipas, Mexico.

And according to Mental Health America, a national non-profit organization, Texas ranks 46th in access to mental health services. Another issue is scarcity of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in rural areas with little to no knowledge of the local culture. Lack of treatment often leads to cycles of unhappy marriages, loss of employment due to anxiety or anger, poor school performance, and substance abuse.

Regardless of the apparent insurmountable odds, advocacy groups and organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA), the National Center for Victims of Crime, and National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), and the National Center for PTSD have kept watch on state and government spending for mental health, argued for increased funding, provided numerous resources for professionals and community, offer listings of certified professionals for treating PTSD, and encouraging further research to improve intervention efficacy and delivery.

Valley citizens can also advocate for mental health funding and awareness of PTSD by informing local, state, and federal officials, or becoming active in an advocacy group of choice.

If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms associated with a presumed PTSD condition, help is but a phone call away. The Crisis Line of Tropical Texas Behavioral Health is 1-877-289-7199, and for you Veterans, and family members of Veterans, contact the Veterans Administration Hot Line at 1-800-273-8255 or text at 838255. These lines are manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have dedicated personnel at your ready. Until Next Time, Stay Healthy My Friends!