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  • Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: Treatment Options for PTSD

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    Army medical experts say it’s normal and adaptive for soldiers to experience heightened fear responses following combat duty. But if the occurrences don’t subside within a few months, they could signal a level of posttraumatic stress disorder that requires professional treatment. (U.S. Army photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

    Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

    Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can occur after someone experiences or sees a traumatic event. However, treatments for PTSD exist and work for most people. The sooner you receive treatment, the sooner you can learn skills to manage PTSD symptoms — many of which significantly worsen a person’s quality of life and ability to function over time.

    The two main types of treatments available for PTSD include psychotherapy (e.g., prolonged exposure therapy or cognitive processing therapy) and medication (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

  • Look Past the Headlines and See the Person

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    Updated classic World War I-era recruitment poster. Photo courtesy of Ilona Meagher.

    Today as we recognize National PTSD Awareness Day, let’s seize the opportunity to try and better understand PTSD and shed any pre-conceived notions we may have about those who live with PTSD (or any other mental illness). He or she could be anyone — your neighbor, a family member, a close friend, an employee, a colleague, or the person in front of you in line at the grocery store.

    We have all read the media headlines surrounding PTSD over the last decade. “War damaged vet kills girlfriend; PTSD to blame?” “Soldier accused in firefight with police is prisoner to PTSD.” “Afghan Massacre: US Soldier ‘Snapped’ Lawyer Mulls PTSD Defense.” “Retirement might unleash PTSD symptoms in Vietnam veterans.” Headlines like these are not helpful. I think they actually contribute to promoting stigma because they call to mind dramatic images that generally aren’t true.

    It’s important to recognize that not everyone who has been in combat or who has experienced a traumatic event will develop PTSD. In fact, the vast majority doesn’t develop PTSD, and even those with PTSD symptoms tend to get better with time. Those who do develop PTSD, or who do well in the short term and have symptoms arise later, shouldn’t be feared or viewed as ticking time bombs. They are people who are suffering, often quietly, and deserve help and support. They should never be pitied nor should they be marginalized or turned into a grotesque caricature or cartoon character.

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  • Suicide Conference Spurs Hope for Answers

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    Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses the audience at the fourth annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference June 22, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

    We hear about suicide in the news, read about it on the Internet, and each of us in our own way work toward preventing the loss of lives. Rarely, do we get the opportunity to discuss suicide as a community. I was privileged to be able to attend and present at the fourth annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference. For me, it was a great opportunity to share my perspective on suicide prevention and to learn from leaders, service members and notable civilian organizations.

    During the three-day conference, the secretaries for the Defense Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veteran Affairs voiced their concerns and future plan of attack to combat suicide. The secretaries spoke to the importance of ending suicides, providing quality programs and communicating suicide programs and research amongst departments, service branches, providers, peers and individuals.

  • Suicide: Not Just a Military Issue

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    Photo courtesy of Sarah Heynen

    “He was the last person to take his own life.”

    These 10 simple words were repeated by several speakers on the TAPS Suicide Survivor Panel Session at the annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference, and they instantly brought me back to my own experience.

    I can remember it like it was yesterday. The day our eyes locked was like one of those movie scenes where the world around stops and everyone else goes into some blurred montage — except it was real life, my life. I fell in love. I found my best friend. We lived on different continents but with frequent communication formed a bond and closeness that I had never experienced.

    The next time my world stopped felt like a nightmare. I can also remember it like it was yesterday. The day I felt a pain so deep it didn’t seem possible and the animalistic screams of terror that I let out in pure reaction to the news.

  • Coping Tips for Families Faced with Summertime Moves

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    U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios

    While families gear up for trips to the beach, picnics or outdoor fun this summer, some military families face an even bigger adventure — relocating to a new community. Permanent change of station (PCS) transitions from one duty station to another, many of which happen during summer, are a part of military life. Yet saying goodbye to friends and support networks, making new friends or fitting in at a new school are experiences that can be stressful on a military family, particularly children.

    We asked Cmdr. Wanda Finch, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury family and community program manager, for tips on how families can communicate and prepare for a move, stay resilient and adjust successfully.

  • Fit After Duty

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    Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force

    Exercise was part of your routine for a long time. It was your duty to churn out miles, hammer weights and stay mission ready. And when you did, you looked better, ate well and slept great.

    But, now you’re out of the service, out of your routine and … maybe out of shape. The irony is that now that you have more time to devote to your well-being, you’re giving it less attention. Why? You may not have a military mission, but you do have a mission — your continued well-being.

    “It may take some new thinking about keeping both your body and your mind fit,” said Dr. Evette Pinder, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), resilience and prevention subject matter expert. “Being physically active can take on a broader context and incorporate goals that are meaningful to your life now, like managing the tasks of daily life requiring strength and conditioning that get progressively challenging as we age,” she said.