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Fall 2014 Edition

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Mike is a 48-year-old truck driver who travels from Cleveland to Chicago three times per week. On his way back home late one night, he was rounding a bend on the dark highway when he noticed a figure standing by the roadside up ahead in the distance. As he neared the figure standing by the roadside, he noticed it was a woman walking slowly, staring down at her feet. Just as he was about to pass by, the woman suddenly turned and leaped into the path of Mike's truck. He had no time to react, and slammed on his brakes at the same moment he felt the impact of her body against the front of his rig.

The rest of the evening passed in a haze. The state police ruled that the woman likely committed suicide and after taking down the necessary information, allowed Mike to leave the scene with a supervisor at his trucking firm. Mike was driven home by his supervisor who tried to reassure Mike that the accident wasn't his fault.

The next day, the cause of death was ruled a suicide and Mike was cleared of any wrong-doing. He went about the next few days almost as if nothing had happened. He returned to his normal routine, generally performing as well as he'd always had. Despite his seemingly normal exterior, Mike's wife began to notice slight changes in his behavior. At night, he thrashed about in fitful sleep, grinding his teeth and mumbling to himself. He also seemed tense and irritable during the day, which was totally uncharacteristic of Mike. Then the nightmares started. Mike was haunted by night terrors. He started drinking more than usual, losing his temper and withdrawing from friends and family. Even though the accident wasn't his fault, he felt intense guilt. Mike fell into a deep depression and eventually took a leave of absence from work.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

After experiencing an especially traumatic or distressing event, individuals are said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress when they become so preoccupied with the traumatic experience it interferes with normal activities. "Shell-shock" as it has been called, refers to symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares and general emotional numbness following a traumatic experience or event.

Symptoms most often reported by post-traumatic stress victims are a "replay" of the terrifying event and re-experience of the same feelings associated with the event. The victim has no control over when, where, how long or how frequent these re-occurrences happen. Often there's a preoccupation with the event, which includes self criticism over one's actions during the traumatic experience. "If I had only left earlier..., I should have did 'this' instead...," as if the experience could have been averted or lessened in severity had the individual responded differently. Commonly, there is a sense of victimization, a feeling of powerlessness and lack of control over their lives.

True post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms appear after the event and not during the traumatic episode itself. Commonly, this disorder succeeds such disturbing experiences as rape or other sexual abuse, physical attack, combat exposure, a serious car accident or childhood physical abuse. People experiencing post-traumatic stress may experience difficulty concentrating, sleeping comfortably or moving forward with their lives. They may withdraw from friends and family, suffer headaches, avoid situations or events that remind them of the experience and easily become agitated and/or depressed. Alcoholism or other substance abuse/addictions are common.

What To Do

Those suffering from post-traumatic stress can be treated. If you or a dependent has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential counseling, referrals or information. Your professional EAP counselor can help you obtain accurate and effective treatment. We're here to help you.


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Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to provide medical advice on personal wellness matters. Please consult your physician for medical advice.