PTSD: Prevention is the name of the game

In class, we talked extensively about the negative effects and complexities of PTSD.  While the evidence that some maybe particularly vulnerable to PTSD (potentially as a result of decreased hippocampal volume), this got me thinking: regardless of the vulnerability, can PTSD be prevented? This question helped me to find an interesting news article from the University of California, San Francisco, titled: Can Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Be Stopped Before it Begins?

The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no”, but researchers have recently developed a protocol designed to prevent PTSD in combat veterans called Deployment Anxiety Reduction Training (DART). The small pilot program is taking place in Afghanistan, and it focuses on an educational component of recognizing stress response following combat trauma.  The program teaches techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation. The article says: “…the short handbook also is a quick and clear read.”  A quick read is always nice, but can this really prevent PTSD? The researchers are hoping the trial is a success, since mental illness treatment in the military is highly stigmatized.  Interestingly, a French study showed that if the heart drug Propranolol is administered within 24 hours of experiencing trauma, people are able to better deal with stress and potentially prevent PTSD. According to the article, the drug blocks stress neurotransmitters in the amygdala, thereby preventing PTSD.  Again, however, the stigma of mental illness makes this treatment undesirable.

During class, we also explored whether social networks can modulate the effects of PTSD or depression. Can a quick stress education course in the field prevent PTSD? I’m skeptical of any “quick” fix for a mental illness, but wouldn’t it be nice if it worked?

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One thought on “PTSD: Prevention is the name of the game

  1. Sara, this sounds really interesting. First off, I think it says a lot that the Army is taking strides in attempting to prevent PTSD likelihood. Second, I think the component about “recognizing stress” gives rise to the interesting idea: if you know you are stressed and scared, can you prevent it? Awareness of your state of mind is an interesting concept – and I think that awareness compounded with techniques can potentially alleviate some stress. Furthermore, the very act of helping oneself – as opposed to seeking supplemental aid – is an empowering concept. Thus, maybe the combination of tools to recognize and deal with stress and empowerment are enough for someone to gain a strong sense of self. Although I haven’t looked at a lot of the literature on sense of self and PTSD, I can only imagine that one’s sense of self is threatened with PTSD – and these exercises would alleviate that threat as well.

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