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Post traumatic stress disorder and your spouse

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Wednesday, April 2, 2014, proved to be a sad day for many in Fort Hood, Texas. Another shooting when families were still grieving the shooting that occurred in 2009. A military man who had served in Iraq and been diagnosed as suffering from depression, anxiety and possibly post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) took his life as well as three others. He also physically wounded sixteen, and God only knows how many emotionally. His wife, in the state of shock, understandably could not believe it. How did he hide his symptoms from her, or was she unaware of the course of his mental illness?

PTSD affects over 7.5 million people in the United States, and the last statistic about military personal states that 19% of our returning soldiers suffer a mild to severe form of PTSD. Rehabilitating soldiers back to civilian life is a process, and having the family, especially the spouse or partner, understand the treatment as well as the process may hold the key to less violence, suicides and shootings such as what happened in Fort Hood.

It can take more than a year to see the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and the symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyper arousal or vigilance).

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

• Flashbacks or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time

• Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:

• Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

• Feeling emotionally numb

• Avoiding activities you once enjoyed

• Hopelessness about the future

• Memory problems

• Trouble concentrating

Symptoms of emotional arousal may be:

• Edgy or jumpy at the smallest thing

• Feeling very uneasy, nervous, and on the verge of intense anxiety

• Over-reacting for the situation at hand

• Feeling guilt or shame

• Self-destructive behavior, drinking, smoking, or driving recklessly

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. You may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences, for instance. Or you may see a report on the news about a rape and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

What to do if your spouse has PTSD:

PTSD is a mental condition. It needs to be treated. It will not go away with hugs and kisses and promises that everything is all right. Here is what you should do for your spouse or loved one if they suffer from PTSD.

1. Seek professional help. It's difficult to accept, but your spouse needs professional help and you will too depending on the severity of their illness. A licensed therapist and medical physician will both need to be involved to prescribe medications and ease symptoms.

2. Set up a security plan. PTSD can be dangerous especially when your spouse experiences vivid nightmares or flashbacks. They can be dangerous to you, themselves and anyone around them, because they are reliving an experience and may not be able to tell what is real.

3. Have a wireless phone available in the house or wherever you are, and keep dangerous objects such as knives, and guns available for you, but no one else. Have a quick exit planned at all times.

4. If you notice your spouse is more depressed, angry, and anxious than usual, it is important to call work places or whoever your husband interacts with to assure their safety.

5. The best plan for living and loving your loved one with PTSD is to understand the mental illness. Go to classes, talk to your loved one, and get help. There is no shame in PTSD, but you must accept the reality of what the illness is and how it affects your loved one.

– Mary Jo Rapini

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