Three adults have taken to unique ways to treat their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms: therapy, interacting with strangers, and yoga.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website states that seven or eight out of every 100 people in the United States will have PTSD at some point in their lives and about 8 million American adults have PTSD in a given year.
The Mayo Clinic website says that symptoms of PTSD include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reaction. These symptoms can start within three months or years after a traumatic event.
PTSD is most commonly associated with members of the armed forces. Diana Kramer, a United States Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Leader and Tillman Scholar, is just one member of the military who has PTSD.
During her four tours, she was on a forward operating base, unlike many other Air Force members. As a result, many of them did not understand her experiences.
“There were nights when we slept in our truck, days on end without showers or anything to eat that wasn’t an MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) or a First Strike sandwich,” Kramer said. “Compare that to the chow hall on camp Liberty where someone would be cutting fresh fruit on the spot.”
Her hardest tour was her first one in Baghdad. Upon returning to the United States, she noticed feeling nervous, irritable and later on depressed.
After her third deployment, the doctors prescribed her anti-depressants, but eventually she stopped taking them because she didn’t like that they made her feel like a zombie just going through life, Kramer said.
It took three different counselors before she found one that understood her. It was important to find the right one because she said that if the counselor didn’t “get her,” that she felt alienated and patronized.
There is a stigma that those who have PTSD in the military are “either broken inside or a violent psychotic,” Kramer said.
However, the majority of people with PTSD are resilient and people need to de-stigmatize the condition, Kramer said.
Kramer’s advice to those going through any mental illness is that people do not have to go through the diagnosis and treatment alone, and if they don’t like their counselor they should find a new one.
“Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness,” Kramer said.
However, more people suffer from PTSD than the military and people take to different ways than therapy to recover.
In December of 2011, three intruders sexually assaulted Ron Blake at his mid-rise apartment in Phoenix. Since then he has channeled his recovery from PTSD into activism.
Starting in November, Ron Blake has traveled the Phoenix area asking strangers to sign his foam boards to support him in his goal to get on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert so he can talk about his PTSD and the stigma associated with mental illnesses.
After working 183 days for six to eight hours a day, he has collected over 135 boards, 10,000 individual messages, and people have signed in more than 65 languages.
At the beginning, it was hard for Blake to approach people because of the trauma, even though he used to be an extroverted city councilman in suburban Chicago.
“It was almost like learning how to walk again,” Blake said, in regards to the process of interacting with people.
Politicians, foreign dignitaries, and local celebrities have signed his boards. Through his encounters, he realized that everyone has a story.
“Traumas, they can bring us together in a sense that we are all real. That we are all human,” Blake said.
However, not everyone is supportive of his goal or the way he is trying to recover. When meeting with a psychiatrist, Blake was told that his dream was unrealistic and within five or 10 minutes, the doctor wanted to diagnose him with another disorder, Blake said.
One of the issues facing mental illnesses is that people get medicated and diagnosed too early.
He is not alone with this observation. Jennifer Huberty, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, said that people go on medication too soon and should try other treatments first.
Just like Blake, she found her own unique form of recovery after having a stillbirth that did not involve the traditional treatments for PTSD: yoga.
She started to do yoga, because she began to be anxious and stressed. Huberty said she thinks yoga kept her from getting PTSD.
Last year, she completed a study where she had women who had a stillbirth complete yoga exercises every week for 12 weeks.
Once the study was complete, Huberty found significant improvement in depression, PTSD, and other symptoms.
From the findings in this study, using yoga as a form of therapy would also be effective for people who have PTSD from other traumatic events, Huberty said.
Although Blake and Huberty dealt with their PTSD symptoms in different ways, they gave the same advice to those who are going through a tough time or have mental illnesses: talk to someone.
Beth Ann Baxter, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who runs her own psychiatric care business, said that people sometimes don’t seek help because of the judgment they experience when they state their diagnosis.
“People have no problem saying, ‘I take medication for anxiety’ or ‘I have ADHD’,” Baster said. “But if you have depression, it is a huge stigma where people just don’t even like the term.”
Baxter works with multiple disorders, including PTSD and schizophrenia.
In her opinion, the best treatment for PTSD is a mix of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and antidepressants. Both are necessary for a good treatment, Baxter said.
WebMD states, “CBT assumes that a person’s mood is directly related to his or her patterns of thought. Negative, dysfunctional thinking affects a person’s mood, sense of self, behavior and even physical state.”
The website goes on to say that CBT is used to help patients recognize their negative thought patterns, evaluate their validity, and replace the thoughts with healthier ways of thinking.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the main treatments for PTSD are psychotherapy, such as CBT, medications, or a combination of both.
However, the stigma associated with medication is detrimental. Baxter had one patient that had been on antidepressants for two years and her husband did not know. Also some people of different cultures refuse to take medication.
Because it is hard for people to reach out and get help, many go to their primary care provider, but the downfall is that mental illnesses are not their specialty.
As a result, when those patients come to Baxter, they are either addicted to medication like Xanax, have been misdiagnosed, or have only gotten slightly better.
Another obstacle in seeking help is that major insurances have the patient first go to a therapist and then get referred to a psychiatrist. That could take two to three months, Baxter said.
The other option for a patient is to pay a psychiatrist privately, but they charge around 500 to 600 dollars per visit.
Kramer, Blake, and Huberty have all bettered their mental health through different ways. All of them have gained control over lives by taking control of their treatments.
While they might not have followed the traditional paths that doctors suggest, they found what worked for them and did not let the stigma associated with PTSD define them.