Is PTSD Genetic?

ptsd-treatment-blog

Source: Self Growth (Abigail Fazelat)

The National Institute for Mental Health finds that about 7.7 million American adults suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD usually occurs after an individual has either endured or witnessed a traumatic event, but the disorder can even affect people of close relations to those who have been involved with trauma. So with the number of diagnoses in the millions, what makes a person susceptible to PTSD, and contrastingly, are some individuals “resistant” to its psychological effects?

First, an in-depth look into the causes and symptoms of the disorder. The symptoms of PTSD in adults are usually uniform, and if left untreated, can prove to be quite damaging to the routine of daily life. Individuals may suffer from any of the three main symptoms, defined by the NIMH as “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”.

Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks and/or nightmares that mentally transport an individual back to the traumatic incident. These symptoms can also arise due to “triggers”, or words, thoughts, or similar events that “trigger” the memory of the traumatic episode.

Avoidance symptoms most noticeably occur as emotional or complete personality changes. An individual expressing these symptoms will avoid any triggers, whether it be people, places, or topics, that remind him or her of the incident. Other signs include losing interest in activities that were once pleasurable, emotional numbness, and intense anxietydepression, or guilt.

Hyperarousal may be best defined as general but intense paranoia and anxiety that serve as aftershocks from the incident. Additionally, insomnia is quite common in people who express symptoms of hyperarousal, and the lack of sleep can easily cause them to have irritable outbursts, especially around the people they love. However, these outbursts can also be related to feelings of alienation and frustration that go along with traumatic events, especially if a person experienced trauma all alone, since that person might feel as if no one else around them understands what he or she is going through.

Researchers are beginning to wonder if PTSD has a genetic factor that causes some people to react more violently towards trauma. After all, not every person who endures trauma develops PTSD. As an example, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs finds that for every five combat veterans, only one develops PTSD, yet all of them are exposed to roughly the same violent and volatile atmosphere of war.

The NIMH says that women are more likely to develop PTSD, and that the millions of reported cases focused only on adults, children are just as likely to develop PTSD, but their symptoms are slightly different. But more promising factors that can help predict an individual’s likelihood for developing the disorder lie within their lifestyles, overall mental health, and their tolerance to uncomfortable or even horrific events.

According to the NIMH, a person’s “risk factors” for developing PTSD greatly increase by “living through dangerous events and traumas,” “seeing people hurt or killed,” “having a history of mental illness,” “dealing with extra stress after the [traumatic] event,” and “feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear”. Additionally, people who are especially emotionally fragile and cannot handle intense feelings or situations are also great candidates for developing PTSD. These risk factors are all prevalent in the daily lives of combat veterans, so it is very curious that only 20% of those veterans develop PTSD. The remaining 80% might have “resilience factors” that help protect them from developing PTSD, such as “seeking out support [immediately after their return from service],” “feeling good about one’s actions in the face of danger,” and “having a coping strategy” that can help them quickly rehabilitate both physically and emotionally from the event.

So for the 7.7 million American adults suffering from PTSD due to their “risk factors”, therapy, utilizing familial support, and perhaps even prescription medication are all very effective methods to help treat PTSD. Combat veterans are also encouraged to explore these methods of rehabilitation, although the VA makes these resources harder to access.

While the VA does provide individualized therapy as associated physicians to provide all sorts of prescription medication, studies released in 2012 by CNN and other media outlets found that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, veterans affected by both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries are encouraged to seek treatment from other organizations who apply more emphasis on holistic treatment methods.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.

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