A new video from the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, featuring TLAP Director Bree Buchanan and Austin psychiatrist Robert Cantu, focuses on identifying post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after Hurricane Harvey.
In The Trauma of Harvey: Identifying PTSD in Yourself and Others, Buchanan and Cantu discuss the symptoms of and treatment for PTSD after a natural disaster. Cantu said some of the symptoms of PTSD include manifestations of anxiety through hyper-arousal, or the feeling of constantly being on edge, and hyper-vigilance, or being keenly aware of what’s going on and perceiving threats and/or danger. Events can be a trigger, or a reminder of a natural disaster. For example, a thunderstorm could trigger thoughts of Hurricane Harvey. Survivors can also relive the events through “daymares” or nightmares. Another symptom is depression or despair— specifically in the case of Harvey having one’s world turned upside down, such as losing a spouse at an early age or losing a home.
What should people look for? Signs that people may be experiencing PTSD include hyper-vigilance, a change in personality or behavior, and increased drinking or new drug usage.
While anyone can experience PTSD, a segment of the population is more vulnerable to it, includingthose who have suffered childhood sexual or physical abuse or neglect; those who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders; and those who have a previous or continued substance abuse problem. The accumulation of all the traumatic events in one’s life leads to a greater risk for PTSD, Cantu said.
Some treatments for PTSD include psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” and medication. Psychotherapy can range from exposure therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy is the gradual exposure to the source of the trauma, from talking about it to being able to face a similar situation without being triggered. Cognitive behavioral therapy looks at how one perceives things and can help a person who feels like they could have done more to prevent the disaster or save more people to realize only so much could be done. A great form of cognitive behavioral therapy is a shared trauma group, Cantu said, noting thatveterans-only PTSD support groups provide those affected by PTSD with a common connection and relationship regarding their traumatic events.
Almost all people suffer from some form of PTSD after a traumatic event, such as a car accident. This reaction is normal and lasts about one to two months, Cantu said. He also noted that only a small percentage goes on to have chronic PTSD symptoms. He suggested identifying the warning signs of PTSD as early as possible as the best means of preventing chronic PTSD symptoms.
TLAP is a confidential service offered to lawyers and others in the legal profession to get help with PTSD, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Call (800) 343-8527 (TLAP) to speak with a representative.