Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 4

Recently I read about PTSD in a UBC press release titled “Healing an invisible wound“. It mentioned a veterans transition program that was created to support military people who suffer from traumatic stress symptoms.

When I read the article everything that was described sounded very familiar. It occured to me that a support group of bereaved parents is really the same thing. “When you have people who are traumatized, it is helpful to receive support and validation from others who have shared those experiences.” That sentence in my opinion reflects the most commonly mentioned statement by bereaved parents, namely that it was helpful to speak to other people who understand, that things are simply known and acknowledged and do not require explanation or justification.

Although PTSD gets very much associated with military actions, people can get traumatized for many other reasons than war. Wikipedia describes a traumatic event as follows: “A traumatic event involves a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience.”

At the stillbirth conference in Vancouver speaker Joanne Cacciatore, founder of the Miss Foundation and researcher at Arizona State University, talked about the concept of traumatic grief. “Traumatic bereavement encompasses deaths that are sudden, violent, or due to human actions (Green, 2000), as well as the death of a child (Rando, 1985).” The paper mentions a debate whether traumatic grief should be classified similarly to PTSD or if it should be characterized differently. I am not qualified to comment on that debate, but personally I just feel that the resulting treatment should certainly not always be medication. If trauma is really a “normal response to an abnormal event” that overwhelms one’s ability to cope, then one solutions seems to be to focus on ways to learn to cope. That is what it felt like to me when my children died. I needed to learn how to deal with these emotions and talking to other bereaved parents helped a lot.

Labeling such an experience as a disorder really only leads to stigma when in reality it is a normal response and not a disorder, doesn’t it?

Dr. Westwood explains: “Part of what we do is explain to them that their response is a normal reaction. We talk about how the brain and hormonal system are activated involuntarily in response to trauma and how this can be harmful to themselves, family and others.” Dr. Cacciatore mentioned physiological responses as a result of traumatic loss as well. It was very interesting to learn about such reactions that very well could become a medical issue if prolonged for too much time.

I would like to think that all kinds of trauma can best be addresses with a similar approach. It takes time to learn to cope with trauma. And the opportunity to connect and interact with people in a similar situation.

Help break the silence!

4 thoughts on “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Reply lanette Dec 14,2013 7:32 pm

    Yes, I have heard this come up before. There certainly does seem to be similiar PTSD symptoms for parents whose children have died. I know that particularly in the beginning I could not predict how I would react to things, I would have terrible dreams, etc. I think it is helpful to talk with other parents who have gone through the same thing.Talking about our experiences together helps me process things and integrate new ways of being into my self. As caring as some of our friends and family are, I still hear the unspoken message of when are you going to be normal again. Thanks for your thoughtful comments as usual!

  2. Reply Jaime Dec 14,2013 8:26 pm

    Thank you Jens. Wonderfully written and thoughtful post. So very true. I cannot imagine where I would be if I did not have a community of support of other bereaved parents.

  3. Reply Kirsten Dec 15,2013 12:51 am

    I’d like to mention up front that English is not my first language. Therefore I usually don’t participate in English – slightly wrong choice of words leads to disaster. But Jens’ post is very important, so I decided to share my thoughts.
    I worked for 10 years with persons after being assaulted at work and had a hard time to understand the illnesses the persons got labeled with in the beginning. When I finally learnt the phrase “normal response to an abnormal event”, it made it so easy to accept all “abnormal” to irrational reactions of my clients because they were “normal”.
    Our experience at work is that an early explanation of “normal response to an abnormal event”, best through a peer group or psychologist, (and our acceptance and those of family members of all kinds of behaviour) help victims to faster integrate the horrible event because they don’t think about being “abnormal” and not being able to control their emotional and physical reactions anymore.
    I agree that this explanation also raises the question: “why should somebody with a normal response to an abnormal event be labeled with a medical diagnosis?” To me, it has a discriminational tone to it: being labeled ill without being ill. I only see practical grounds: to get medical/psychological attention in the (German) health care system you have to be ill – or you have to pay for it by yourself.
    But mostly and very sadly the whole discussion shows that our society is not able to react normally to normality.

  4. Reply Jens Dec 15,2013 10:54 am

    Kirsten, unfortunately the Canadian system functions the same way. Many parents mentioned that in order for them to get help, they needed to be diagnosed with something. For example, a bereaved parent might not get counselling covered by health insurance if the doctor does not write depression or similar on the referral. As a parent who experiences a perfectly normal reaction to the death of their child, one then gets labeled as depressed for the system to work, ends up going to a mental health clinic and if unlucky talks to someone who gets a prescription pad out and tells them to take medication. I think your observation is very important: clarifying that it is normal to see physiological reactions that are logically explainable can go a long way, especially to even get people to seek support. Otherwise fear of being stigmatized becomes a barrier. It does not mean that medical intervention might not become necessary if these physiological reactions are prolonged or severe, but that requires a case by case evaluation.

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