Understanding PTSD

Eastern Kentucky University’s Dr. Carole Garrison presented “Understanding PTSD” at West Virginia State University in April 2013. The following is a summary of her remarks.

Online Police Studies Degree Program Professor Garrison on PTSD

I come from a veteran-friendly campus, one which has always been so. But now, with a special office, separate from ROTC, and dedicated to veterans, it came to the attention of the White House and Michelle Obama was one of Eastern Kentucky University’s 2013 commencement speakers!  I remember when ROTC offices were picketed and banned on some university campuses. I was at Kent State…after the May 4 massacre. It was not a great time to be a military vet on campus!

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not new. The huge increase in returning vets in the past decade and the increase in the use of the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s educational incentives have brought PTSD to the forefront, and hopefully to treatment and support.

PTSD can occur as a result of experiencing a trauma, and approximately 8 percent of the general population of the United States will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, women are more likely than men to develop PTSD from traumatic experiences such as sexual assault during their time in service. This is specifically known as “military sexual trauma.”  

Experiencing any trauma can predispose an individual to developing PTSD, but that does not mean that individual will develop PTSD. There are several factors that influence the development of PTSD, such as the length and intensity of the trauma, reaction to the trauma, or how much support and help the individual sought after the trauma.

There are five steps for veterans and others to take to support PTSD treatment, but remember that nothing will work if you don’t first acknowledge you need help!

  1. Lean on Your Fellow Veterans
    Stress injuries are common among veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, so you are not alone.
  2. Continue Your Education with Support from the VA.
    Continuing your education can positively influence recovery from PTSD, and enrolling in a degree or certificate program can help channel your thoughts toward learning and new ways to be involved in productive activities.
  3. Return to Work or Volunteering
    One of the major symptoms of PTSD is a strong feeling of anxiety. Volunteering reduces that feeling, helps you feel safer in your surroundings and gives you purpose and action.
  4. Exercise
    Exercise can benefit those coping with PTSD by relaxing their bodies and minds.
  5. Talk with Your Social Support Network
    It’s easy to feel lonely when you’re coping with PTSD, but you are not alone. Isolation can actually make you feel worse. Look for welcoming groups. For example, veteran-friendly college campuses provide robust social support networks.

Finally, if you are an instructor who wants to support students with PTSD, here are some tips:

  1. Identify students in trouble, students who seem to be distracted, overly quiet, not participating.
  2. Allow spouses and vets to keep their cell phones on vibrate and take incoming calls.
  3. Refer students to counseling.

Those with PTSD, especially our veterans, bring a wealth of world experience. They show us new ways of thinking and provide new information that enhances the learning community and the classroom. We need them, and they need us!

Editor’s Note: Dr. Carole Garrison’s distinguished career covers law enforcement and academia. She is currently an instructor for the EKU Online Police Studies program.

Published on January 14, 2014