Sidney Hays, MSW, LISW, DARTT, Outpatient Therapist, Lindner Center of HOPE

“Trauma” has been a buzzword in recent years. Accompanying it has been discourse around what counts as trauma. From the extreme of exaggerating minor inconveniences as trauma to the opposite end of the spectrum which attempts to gatekeep this term, reserving it for life threatening events only.

These extremes create confusion around not only the definition of the term and related concepts, but unnecessarily polarizes an already sensitive topic. As people debate the validity of traumas, it often reinforces the harmful self-judgements adopted by those who have experienced trauma. This reinforcement is often what keeps people stuck in self-blame and blocks actual healing.

It is common for those who have experienced trauma to blame themselves. This occurs for many reasons. One of the most obvious reasons lies in cultural messaging related to victim blaming, exaggerated self-reliance, and toxic positivity. The messaging of victim blaming often sounds like: What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you fight back? Why were you there in the first place? Are you really going to talk about your mom like that? Rather than holding those who caused the damage accountable, the responsibility gets shifted to the person who experienced it. This causes significant shame, often keeping people stuck in trauma responses and unhelpful patterns.

The worlds of toxic positivity and “just do it” often dismiss the significance of trauma, which impedes the ability to process and heal from trauma. It can sound something like: But you have so much to be grateful for. Your parents weren’t that bad. Other people have it much worse. Just count your blessings. Just decide to change and make it happen. You just need to (insert unhelpful platitude here). These responses encourage us to ignore the impacts of our trauma, which leads to trauma being stored in the body.

Another explanation of the self-blame that often accompanies trauma is that it gives the person who experienced it a false sense of control. If it was my fault, that means I should have just done better. If it was my fault, I can control the situation. If it was my fault, I can make sure it never happens again. Our brains are often much more comfortable with the notion that we messed up than the reality that other people and many events are outside our control.

Like with most debates and continuums, the surrounding discourse usually harms those who live a life of less privilege. Expanding our understanding of trauma and its impacts creates space for healing and growth.

The problem with many definitions of trauma lies in the focus of the definition. Most center around the event that occurred. However, this focus is incorrect and shortsighted. The most important factor in defining trauma is actually related to how a person experiences a moment, event, or series of events. Because of this, what is experienced as trauma will vary between person to person and moment to moment, which impacts how the body physiologically responds to a perceived threat.

Dr. Peter Levine, the developer of Somatic Experiencing, states that “trauma lives in the body, not the event.” When our nervous system perceives something as a threat, it reacts in kind, regardless of whether or not there is an objective threat. Most of us have heard of the fight (yelling, hitting, approaching), flight (running away from, avoiding), and freeze (immobilization, dissociation, disconnection) responses to a threat without fully understanding how these reactions come to be… These are states of our autonomic nervous system, which controls the automatic functions of the body (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, digestion, hormones, immune response). This means that these reactions are unconscious, automatic, and the result of our nervous system attempting to protect us from a perceived threat.

When our brains perceive something as a threat, our nervous system does not always choose the most effective response. Our responses are informed by a lifetime’s cycles of threat and response. Because of this, the response of our autonomic nervous system is often the one we’ve used most in the past, or the response we wish we could have used then but didn’t have access or ability to use. This can explain many confusing patterns in our lives, such as a person who experienced emotional neglect as a child might struggle to share their emotions and needs even with a partner in a safe, healthy relationship down the line. These patterns require intentional work to mend to get our nervous system on board with responding in ways that may be more effective, or better in line with our values. In order to do this, we need adequate resources to increase our capacity to tolerate threats and distress.

Many factors impact our ability to cope with perceived threats such as: resources, support, physical health, and the level to which our needs are met. When these factors are well resourced, we have increased capacity to tolerate threat and distress. However, the inverse is also true. When lacking in any of these areas, our capacity drops.

Linda Thai brilliantly defines trauma as, “too sudden, too little, or too much of something for too long or not long enough without adequate time, space, permission, protection, or resources.” This inclusive definition accounts for the many nuances of the human experience, including generational trauma, and trauma resulting from racism, sexism, homophobia, fat phobia, colonization, and other various systems of oppression. Mindfulness of these nuances creates space for the full spectrum of human suffering to be seen, processed, and healed.

When we create this kind of space, increase access to resources, validate, and protect one another, we can be agents of healing in a world severely lacking at.

“If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer.”

-Dr. Stephen Porges








By: Laurie Little, PsyD 

Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist

Plants that have psychedelic properties have been used across all continents for centuries to aid in rituals, recreation and in healing. Over time, researchers have found that psychedelic medicines can also be profoundly effective in treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and in ameliorating the effects of trauma.

Although a psychedelic medicine can be derived from a plant or created in a lab, the user will experience what can be described Laurie Little, PsyD as non-ordinary or altered states of consciousness. These states may include hallucinations, unusual perceptual or sensory experiences or an altered sense of space and time. Many users of psychedelic medicines also report profound experiences of inner peace, compassion towards themselves and others and deeply meaningful spiritual realizations. When combined with psychotherapy, psychedelic medicines have the potential to heal in ways often not seen with traditional therapies.

The psychedelic medicines that are most often being studied with mental health conditions are psilocybin (derived from mushrooms), LSD, Ketamine, Ayahuasca and MDMA. There have been numerous studies showing the effectiveness of psychedelic medicines on treatment resistant depression, end of life anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eating disorders and substance use disorders.

One of the most rigorously studied medicine is MDMA for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In studies conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), 88% of participants with severe PTSD experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms and 67% no longer met criteria for PTSD only two months after their treatment.

The question remains, why is the treatment so effective? What is it about the combination of psychedelic medicine and psychotherapy that is so profoundly healing?

One possible theory is that psychedelic medicines offer the user an opportunity to look at difficult or traumatic experiences through a new lens that they have never had before. A psychedelic experience can potentially slow down the experience of time, engender feelings of safety and compassion, provide profound experiences of meaning and purpose and foster or deepen a connection to a higher power. Many of these experiences when applied to processing an old wound or trauma can have a profoundly healing impact.

Case Vignette:

John Doe is a veteran who has seen horrors that most of us cannot imagine. He has spent the better part of his adult years struggling with recurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts and strong feelings of survivor guilt and shame. He lives alone, avoids most people when he can and spends most of his time ruminating about what he should have done differently in his life.

At the behest of his family, John has tried traditional psychotherapy, but has gotten so overwhelmed by symptoms of panic and flashbacks, that he quits. It is too painful to talk about and he assumes it won’t help.

However, when John was given the opportunity to participate in an MDMA assisted therapy session, he was intrigued. He had been hearing more and more about how psychedelics could help with trauma but was afraid to feel hopeful. He had been resigned to feeling this way for so long. He agreed to give it a try.

While taking MDMA, John felt an alert state of consciousness, yet he felt calm and safe in a way that he had not felt for years. He felt at peace and relaxed. When he was gently guided to recall aspects of his past, he did not resist or feel panic like he had before. He was able to recall the events with a certain kind of distance. He could understand now that he was just doing what he could to survive. He could see now for the first time in his life that his so called “enemies” were also doing what they could to survive. He began to realize how true that was for all of the world. After that initial session of MDMA assisted therapy, John was then able to engage in traditional therapy in a way he never could before.

Although many researchers and therapists are aware of how profoundly helpful these medicines can be, there is still a great deal of stigma associated with these medicines. Because these medicines are still illegal in the United States, desperate patients are either travelling to other countries or are finding therapists who are privately using these medicines through “word of mouth”.

The Food and Drug Administration gave approval for certain psychedelic medicines to be researched, as long as they were held to the same standards as other pharmaceutical medications. This has led to a resurgence of new studies showing the safety and efficacy of psychedelic medicines for a multitude of mental health conditions. It is projected that several psychedelic medicines (including psilocybin and MDMA) will become legal and available for therapeutic use within the next one to two years.

Tracy S. Cummings, MD Psychiatrist, Lindner Center of HOPE Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Medical Director of CCHMC Services at LCOH

On a large scale, our world continues to adjust to the new normal enacted for our safety in the wake of COVID19. And while we may be interested in global responses and big picture outcomes, this tends to pale in comparison to the level of concern a family holds for its members and home. Our definitions of “family” may vary, and our abilities to handle stress can be wide-ranging, but we all likely share our desire to see the system succeed. Having tangible options to put into action in our households right now can give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment while keeping those that mean the most to us moving forward in positive directions through this uncertain time. Consider the following acronym, HELP, to help keep your family functional:

H– Heed the advice of our trusted medical and community leaders.

  • Staying up to date on current safety recommendations from the CDC, WHO and governmental leaders is important.
  • Understanding what local resources may be needed and taking the time to consider your home’s personal emergency plan is worthwhile.
  • Creating a sense of control over those things that are within your grasp will feel rewarding, even if there is some anxiety around the situation.
  • Once you have the general information you need to proceed with helping your family, limit exposure to crisis-related media.

E– Enact the recommendations of the leaders and your personal plan.

  • In order for this to be successful for families, there will need to be good communication about its importance. Talking about the virus in a way everyone can understand (particularly if there are young children in the home) will pose a worthwhile challenge. Consider this as an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and compassion for each other when our particular ways of acknowledging, responding to, and addressing stress becomes apparent.
  • Take the universal precautions immediately: good hand hygiene, covering coughs/sneezes, frequently clean/disinfect, maintain social distancing, wear a mask if in a public setting, stay home as much as possible and absolutely if sick.
  • Remember that younger members in the home will be watching those around them for cues on how to handle this situation, so reinforce the recommendations through modeling the appropriate behaviors as much as possible. If the adults in the home are struggling with how they are personally managing the stress of today, seeking assistance for mental health strength should not be delayed.

L– Listen to the needs of your individual household and make room for those in the necessary changes.

  • Label priorities for your family: academics, virtual lessons, family meals, general chores, and what needs to be done on a given day.
  • The use of a broad-strokes calendar may be helpful here, so as to set some daily standards and routines. With so much changing around us (ie. schools closed, remote working requirements, conveniences disrupted), having some predictability to the day can provide security to adults and children alike. Do you have to set up a strict schedule for every hour of the day and follow it militantly?  No, but knowing there is some allotted time for a few essential activities a day is reasonable, and IT CAN CHANGE as needed.
  • Emphasize flexibility over perfection these days.

P– Protect your unity.

  • Emotions can run high during this time of collective crisis. Accepting how difficult these changes are for us all can be freeing.
  • It is ok to grieve the loss of all the special moments and events that have been postponed or canceled due to COVID19. Whenever possible, consider ways to creatively experience those moments in an alternative fashion. Can’t go to Disney?  How about making a Disney movie night and riding some virtual rides that are posted for the park?
  • Keep in contact with those who are important to your family as much as possible. Use the technology available to your advantage. Virtual birthday parties and gatherings, like many current classrooms, are being readily utilized with success. Phone calls with or without video, texts, and even sending letters/cards are simple ways to avoid isolation while maintaining social distancing.
  • Staying connected doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together, though. It might be nice, and likely necessary, for family members in the same home to have some time to themselves. Use these moments to recharge and encourage young ones in the home to appreciate this personal time as well.

These are uncharted waters for our families, our communities, our planet. We cannot expect to know how to handle our current circumstances flawlessly, but we can keep trying.  All we need is a little HELP.

by: Tracy S. Cummings, MD, Psychiatrist, Lindner Center of HOPE

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call

  • 911
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.

Things you can do to support yourself

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.


Jennifer L. Farley, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Staff Psychologist

When horrible things happen, things that we didn’t want or expect, they can have a significant – and sometimes devastating – effect on our lives. This is especially the case when the horrible event was perceived as a risk to our life or the life of someone we care about. A traumatic event can be shocking, scary, and/or dangerous. It can affect the way we perceive our environment, it can lead us to do things we would not normally do, and it can affect the quality of our relationships. Hence, a trauma can negatively impact many aspects of our well-being.

When someone experiences a trauma, the effects of it can depend on a variety of factors such as the age when the trauma occurred, the duration of which the the trauma occurred, and the intensity of the negative effects of the trauma. These factors do not mean, for example, that one who experienced a one-time traumatic event “should” have a better mental health outcome than someone who experienced a repeated trauma; rather, it is helpful to understand the nature of the trauma and how individuals can be affected.

When a traumatic experience occurs, the limbic system in the brain is activated and initiates the “fight, flight, or freeze” response to protect the person from harm. Interested in touring Sometimes these responses are so strong that a person may do something they would not have imagined was possible. Imagine being able to move something very heavy to protect a child from harm’s way or to run fast away from danger. Other responses can lead one to experience “shock” to where one cannot process their environment in a way to elicit any response. During this “fight, flight, or freeze” response, the individual is not focused on problem-solving or rational thought process, which are functions elicited by the frontal lobe of the brain (the “executive” center, if you will). Instead, the person is focused on survival and protection.

Feeling afraid is natural during and after a traumatic experience. Also,most people recover from initial symptoms they may have after a trauma. However, there are some people who may experience anxiety long after the traumatic experience, even when they are no longer in danger. Some of these individuals may develop symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People may experience flashbacks that triggers them to feeling the same intensity of fear they had during the trauma. People may develop a strong mistrust of others.

They may also develop feelings of guilt, as if they were responsible for the traumatic event. Some people may avoid certain places or things associated with the trauma. Nightmares may be common. People may also develop very unhealthy ways to cope with their symptoms of PTSD, for example, by “numbing” their feelings with alcohol and/or drugs or with self-harm behaviors. It is estimated that 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. When a traumatic event is experienced in a child, the negative effects upon that child’s social and emotional development can be even more profound. The attachment that child has to his or her loved ones can be severely impacted. They struggle to form healthy relationships with others. Their academic performances can be hindered, especially if they become focused on their worries instead of their school work.

For these reasons, seeking psychological treatment as soon after a traumatic is experienced is highly recommended. Psychotherapy can help a person become more empowered over their fears through cognitive and behavioral strategies. Medication also can be indicated for people with PTSD, especially to help regulate sleep, reduce anxiety, and minimize depression. The goal for treatment would be to help the individual function better in several ways (e.g., socially, emotionally, and behaviorally) and to reduce the long-term impact that a trauma might have.

People may experience a traumatic event, but the symptoms associated with experiencing the trauma can be overcome.

Chris Tuell Ed.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS
Clinical Director of Addiction Services Lindner Center of HOPE
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

In 1987, Francine Shapiro went for a walk. While on her walk, Francine was contemplating some very upsetting personal events that were occurring in her life at the time. But as she began to focus on this upsetting information, she noticed that her eyes began to flicker from side to side. More importantly, she noticed that the once upsetting information was no longer as upsetting. Shapiro felt that she had stumbled on some aspect of how the mind processes information. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, better known as EMDR, was born.

For the past 30 years EMDR has become one of the most effective therapeutic approaches in the treatment of trauma. EMDR is not only approved by the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, but also by the United States Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, as an effective therapy in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Shapiro believes that one of the major theories behind EMDR is the bilateral stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain. When we sleep at night, our brain continues to process information. This occurs during rapid eye movement sleep or better known as REM sleep.

The brain processes the events of the day, keeping what is important (e.g. family, work, school, friends), and purging what is unimportant (e.g., What I had for dinner last Tuesday). How many times have we have been faced with a tough decision and resorted to, “I’ll just sleep on it,” only to awake the next morning with a better idea of what to do? But when a traumatic event occurs, the processing of this information becomes disrupted. The brain becomes unable to process and clear the event or information, resulting in the trauma experience continuing to occur as if it is happening all over again. In this playing-out, the right hemisphere of the brain, the part of our brain that experiences emotions such as fear and anxiety, continues to be activated by the unresolved trauma. The patient experiences this activation through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and disturbing dreams, the basic elements of PTSD.

EMDR involves the bilateral stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain while targeting the upsetting aspects of the trauma. In therapy, the therapist recreates what happens naturally during REM sleep, with the movement of the eyes as they follow the therapist’s hand, stimulating both hemispheres of the brain. Over the years, additional bilateral stimulation methods have been found to be effective (i.e., tactile, audio). This targeting involves, not only activating the image of the event, but also identifying the negative thoughts, emotions and sensations experienced by the patient from the trauma. During the reprocessing of the trauma experience, the logical, rational part of the brain, the left hemisphere, is integrated with the right emotional hemisphere. This results in the patient having a more adaptive response to the trauma. The patient may still have memory of the event, but the emotional aspects of fear and anxiety have dissipated. During EMDR, the left hemisphere of the brain, the rational, logical part, is integrated with the emotional right hemisphere of the brain, resulting in the patient feeling and knowing that, “The trauma is no longer happening to me now; The trauma is in the past; I am safe now.”

EMDR is not a wonder cure nor is it a quick fix. EMDR involves hard work by the patient and it takes a good amount of clinical skills in order to implement. This is not about touching the person’s forehead and he or she is better. The patient and therapist have to be responsible and work at this process, but it does appear to go much more rapidly than traditional types of therapy. If a trauma can occur within a few moments, why do we automatically accept that it has to take years to undo it?

More than 20,000 practitioners have been trained to use EMDR since its discovery. The use of EMDR has been found to be beneficial in other areas of mental health besides, PTSD. Areas such as panic disorders, anxiety disorders, grief, pain, stress, addiction, and abuse, have shown to be responsive to this unique therapy. One aspect of EMDR that I have found to be valuable is the fact that it is unnecessary for me, as the clinician, to know all the details and specifics of a patient’s trauma in order for EMDR to be helpful. Many individuals who have experienced trauma stay clear of therapy for fear of reliving the memories and feelings. The EMDR protocol allows for such traumatic episodes to be addressed and reprocessed without describing the details of the trauma. As a practitioner, I have found EMDR to be a valuable therapeutic tool in assisting patients in moving past one’s past.

For more information about EMDR:



By Danielle J. Johnson, MD, FAPA
Lindner Center of HOPE, Chief of Adult Psychiatry

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month.  One in five women will develop a maternal mental health disorder.  They are also referred to as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) to emphasize that women experience more than postpartum depression during pregnancy and after birth.  Women who have symptoms of PMADs might not seek help because of guilt, shame, or embarrassment for feeling something different than the expected norms of motherhood.  Awareness and education are important to reduce stigma so mothers and babies get the help they need.

PMADs can occur during pregnancy or up to one year after giving birth. The most common PMAD is the “baby blues”, affecting up to 80% of new mothers.  Symptoms include sudden mood swings, loneliness, sadness, crying spells, loss of appetite, problems sleeping, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety.  These symptoms are a normal adjustment to changes in hormones and resolve without treatment in two to three weeks.

About 10% of women experience depression during pregnancy and about 15% during the first year postpartum.  Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless; fatigue, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, crying, loss of interest or pleasure; lack of interest in, difficulty bonding with, or excessive anxiety about the baby; feelings of being a bad mother, and fear of harming the baby or self are symptoms of peripartum depression.  Risk factors include poverty, being a teen mother, advanced maternal age; personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or postpartum depression; premenstrual dysphoric disorder, inadequate support, financial stress, relationship stress; complications in pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding; a history of abuse or trauma, a major recent life event, birth of multiples, babies in neonatal intensive care, infertility treatments, thyroid imbalance, and diabetes.

Anxiety can occur alone, or with depression, in 10% of new mothers.  Symptoms include constant worry, racing thoughts, inability to sit still, changes in sleep or appetite, feeling that something bad is going to happen; and physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea.  Some mothers may also have panic attacks with shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, a feeling of losing control, and numbness and tingling.  Risk factors are a personal or family history of anxiety, previous perinatal depression or anxiety, and thyroid imbalance.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in up to 6% of mothers following a traumatic childbirth.  Possible traumas are prolapsed cord, unplanned C-section, use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby, baby going to NICU; and feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery.  Women who have experienced a previous sexual trauma are also at a higher risk for developing postpartum PTSD.  Intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic event, flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of stimuli associated with the event; increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response); anxiety and panic attacks, and feeling a sense of unreality and detachment are symptoms of PTSD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can occur in 3% to 5% of new mothers.  Obsessions are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images, often related to the baby. Obsessions can be so bizarre or disturbing that they can be mistaken as psychosis.  Compulsions are repetitive acts performed to reduce obsessions.   Mothers are distressed by the obsessions which can lead to a fear of being left alone with the baby or hypervigilance in protecting the baby.  Mothers with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are out of the ordinary and are unlikely to ever act on them.

Postpartum psychosis is the most severe of the PMADs.  It is often associated with an episode of bipolar disorder. It is rare, occurring in 1 to 2 per 1000 women.  The onset is abrupt, within 48 to 72 hours and up to two weeks after delivery. This is a psychiatric emergency, requiring immediate treatment.  Mothers may experience hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things) and/or delusions (believing things that aren’t true.)  If psychosis occurs as part of a bipolar manic episode, there might be additional symptoms such as irritability, hyperactivity, decreased need for or inability to sleep, paranoia and suspiciousness, rapid mood swings, difficulty communicating, and confusion or memory loss. Risk factors are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder or a psychotic disorder.  Most women with postpartum psychosis do not have violent delusions but there is an up to 5% rate of infanticide or suicide due to acting on delusions or having irrational judgement.

PMADs are the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth.  They are treatable with psychotherapy and/or medication and early intervention provides relief for the mother and ensures the baby’s wellbeing.

On October 28, 2015, Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, Lindner Center of HOPE Psychiatrist and Williams House Medical Director, joined Lon Woodbury on the Woodbury Report radio show.  Their discussion focused on outlining the benefits of a residential assessment for mental health concerns in adolescents.

Click here to listen.

A mental health condition triggered by an extremely stressful event, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects over 5.2 million Americans each year, and almost 8 million will experience it at some point over their lifetimes. PTSD is a serious mental disorder that can develop at any age and last for years.  Once known as “shell shock” because so many soldiers in combat developed the disorder, PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans.  However, a variety of triggering events can lead to the onset of this disorder, which can affect anyone.

Causes and Risk Factors 

PTSD can be triggered by experiencing any sort of physical or psychological trauma, or even by seeing or learning about such an event.  Feelings of helplessness and intense fear bring on later symptoms.  Examples of traumas can include physical or sexual assault, life-threatening experiences such as combat or accidents, natural disasters, or the death of a loved one. First responders to emergencies, such as EMTs and other rescue workers, can develop the disorder due to exposure to others’ trauma.

Many people face terrifying or extremely stressful experiences in their lives, but not everyone goes on to develop PTSD.  What triggers the disorder in some individuals but not others?  It appears that the following factors may affect an individual’s relative resiliency when exposed to extreme stress:

  • Genetic factors, including inherited mental health risks;
  • Severity and amount of previous trauma, particularly in childhood;
  • An individual’s temperament;
  • How one’s brain regulates hormones and chemicals released during episodes of stress;
  • Presence of lack of a strong support system of friends and family;
  • Intensity and duration of the traumatic experience;
  • One’s gender – women develop PTSD more frequently than men, partially due to the fact their increased vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, and other forms of abuse;
  • Presence of existing mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Symptoms of PTSD

In order to be classified at having PTSD, an individual must have symptoms occurring for at least one month and affecting overall functioning.  Most individuals develop symptoms within three months of the traumatic event, but symptoms may not emerge until years later.

People who go through a traumatic event can have reactions that include anxiety, anger, shock, and guilt.  These are common responses that fade away over time.  For an individual with PTSD, these feelings don’t fade but actually increase.

Mental health experts classify post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in three categories:

  • Reliving.  Flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares are common ways in which individuals relive their traumatic ordeals.
  • Avoidance. Individuals often avoid places, people, or situations that remind them of the trauma.  This behavior can lead to social isolation, emotional numbing, and loss of interest in activities.
  • Increased arousal. Individuals may experience volatile emotions, such as anger outbursts, and feel agitated or easily startled. Concentration is often poor. Associated physical symptoms include increased heart rate or blood pressure, rapid breathing, and muscle tension.

The severity and duration of the illness vary. Some people recover within six months, while others suffer much longer.

Treatment of PTSD

While PTSD can be disabling, it is treatable – usually through a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medications are often used to control extreme symptoms of the disorder, including anxiety, nightmares, and sleep disturbance.  Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to manage anxiety and depression and improve sleep. On a short-term basis, antipsychotics may be given to control emotional outbursts and severe sleeping disturbance.

Other medications may be used to treat specific physical or psychological symptoms.  For example, Prazosin, a drug normally prescribed for hypertension, may also manage insomnia and recurring nightmares.

Professionals also recommend psychotherapy or “talk therapy” to help individuals learn to manage symptoms and cope better with memories and feelings. Common treatment approaches include individual, family, or group therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapies are particularly effective, as they help patients deal with negative thought patterns that trigger stress.

Two strategies often associated with PTSD treatment are exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).  The former is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy in which patients relive traumatic experiences in a controlled and supportive environment.  This technique allows patients to confront their fears and become more comfortable in anxiety-provoking situations. EMDR helps patients deal with traumatic memories by teaching a group of guided eye movements that assist in processing these memories.

A word about prevention: there is evidence that seeking treatment as soon as possible after a traumatic event can be highly beneficial.  Immediate support can often help an individual recover from trauma without developing full-blown PTSD. Whether a mental health counselor, minister, or other helping professional, a trained, caring individual can provide invaluable support at a critical time.

When the subject of disabilities surfaces in our thoughts or conversations, it is common to first consider those caused by some type of physical ailment or affliction. Conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and back problems are certainly primary causes of long-term disabilities in our nation. However, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in U.S. citizens ranging in ages from 15 to 44, according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) statistics.

What these numbers show is that many Americans and people around the world are affected by illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other mood and anxiety disorders in the prime of their working lives. Unfortunately, these numbers show no sign of subsiding anytime soon. In fact, they continue to rise, as do the number of filings with the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability benefits due to mental illnesses.

The SSA and Mental Illness Claims

The SSA has established specific criteria that qualify those suffering with mental disorders for disability benefits. Basically, it must be determined that an existing mental condition limits or impairs one’s ability to fulfill their work obligations. In most situations, assessments and evaluations must be performed by mental health professionals. Additionally, evidence must be submitted to the SSA that indicates the individual in question is unable to perform their assigned job duties as a consequence of their condition.

Getting Back on their Feet

It is important for those with mental health issues to make their employers aware of their situation. All too often, workers are hesitant or afraid to address their condition with their employers for fear of negative repercussions. But behavioral or productivity problems could lead to termination, which also often results in the loss of insurance, creating even more problems for these individuals in regard to receiving treatment.

When documented mental health issues are reported to an employer, they are obligated under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations to accommodate that employee with whatever they need to successfully perform their job duties, or to make their working situation as comfortable as possible. In lieu of applying for disability benefits, this can allow an employee to continue to work while receiving mental health treatment and take measures that will eventually enable them to effectively manage their condition.


This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.