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PTSD: Stress and Resilience

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Introduction: Welcome to “Speaking of Science”, the National Institute of Mental Health presents a series of conversations with innovative researchers working in a wide range of disciplines to pave the way for the prevention, recovery, and cure of mental illness.  

Narrator: The world has watched and responded to tragic events of unimaginable scale. There were the powerful hurricanes that left much of the United States gulf coast in ruins. And most recently the devastating earthquake in Haiti. For nearly a decade, Americans have been at war in two countries, with many veterans experiencing life threatening combat.

In spite of these exceptional, emotional challenges, most people have managed to find a way to cope with these traumatic events. However, there are growing numbers of individuals suffering from the debilitating symptoms of PTSD… POST Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dr. Tuma: One of the most challenging problems is understanding among all those people who are trauma exposed and have those acute reactions, who is likely to not have that recovery trajectory, or to get better essentially on their own without formal treatment or intervention.

Narrator: The National Institute of Mental Health is at the forefront of research efforts designed to better understand who among us is most susceptible to PTSD… and what can be done to successfully treat the disorder.

Dr. Tuma: For most people who are experiencing those acute reactions having a generally supportive non judgmental family member colleague, community member, perhaps someone associated clergy person to talk to and confide in is pretty helpful for most people.

 Narrator:  But for some people, professional treatment may be a necessity.

Dr. Heinssen: If after a period of time the distress that you’re experiencing isn’t going away, that’s a good time to talk to a mental health professional and it may help in talking to those individuals to use some of the resources that are available on the NIMH website that describe traumatic stress reactions and treatments, to have an educated discussion with your caretaker about your treatment options.

Narrator: In recent years, the military and specifically the United States Army have developed heightened concern over the scope of military personnel who have exhibited severe PTSD symptoms…

Dr. Heinssen: Several consecutive years we’ve seen a systematic increase in the rate of suicide among soldiers in the Army. The army has taken this very very seriously in looking at ways that they can understand the problem and try to get ahead of it. It was a little over a year ago June of 2008 that the army reached out to NIMH and said rather courageously I think that “we’re putting a lot of effort to try to understand this problem, but we want to make sure that we’re not missing anything. Any resource that we can bring to bear we want to bring to bear.

Narrator:  NIMH scientists teamed with researchers from the Army, Uniformed Services University, Harvard, Columbia and Michigan for an unprecedented research effort.

Dr. Heinssen: We think that this study which is going to follow a large number of soldiers, we’re talking about close to four hundred thousand soldiers over the course of their career in the army that will be able to describe the pathway. Pathways to resilience, pathways to distress and pathways to suicide that are going to give us unique opportunities for intervening very early in the process.

Narrator:  The hope is results from this extraordinary research project will help, not only military veterans but people all over the world suffering from the effects of natural and man-made disasters.