For men, confronting the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may not come naturally. Many are unaccustomed to showing vulnerability or weakness, making it tough to open up and seek treatment.
What’s more, men can often be “fixers,” thinking there’s not a problem they can’t solve. But when it comes to PTSD, many men are not able to cope on their own and need help.
The Men’s Program at Princeton House Behavioral Health, a unit of Princeton Health Care System, focuses on treating men who have experienced traumatic events and helping them develop the tools to manage PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a normal reaction to an abnormal event or series events such as experiencing or witnessing:
• A life-threatening situation such as combat, natural disaster, or car accident
• Violence, including domestic violence and child abuse
• Emotional abuse
• Sexual assault
According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, about 60 percent of men suffer at least one traumatic event during their lives, and roughly 1 in 8 men — or 12 percent — will suffer from PTSD.
While not everyone who suffers a traumatic event will develop PTSD, there are several risk factors that may increase the likelihood of the disorder:
• Experiencing trauma that is intense or long lasting
• Having experienced other trauma earlier in life, including childhood abuse or neglect
• Having a job that may exposes you to traumatic events, such as military personnel and first responders
• Other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder. PTSD has a comorbidity rate with other mental illnesses but there is usually no way to distinguish which came first
• Lack of a support network
• Family history of mental health problems, including PTSD or depression. This is due to genetic vulnerabilities that occur as a result of these disorders, which make a person more susceptible to developing these issues
Typical symptoms of PTSD include feelings of great distress that last longer than three months and disrupts one’s home and work life. These may include:
• Flashbacks triggered by certain sights, sounds or smells
• Avoidance behaviors, such as staying away from crowds, refusing to drive after an accident or staying busy to keep from thinking or talking about certain subjects
• Sleep difficulties, including trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
• Anger and irritability
• Trouble concentrating
• Feeling keyed up (hyperarousal) or easily startled (hyperstartle)
• Feeling disconnected, ashamed or hopeless (hypoarousal)
• Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
• Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
Signs of PTSD often develop shortly after a traumatic event, usually within three months. Sometimes, though, symptoms can take years to appear.
PTSD can affect almost every area of a man’s life, especially his ability to connect with people and maintain healthy relationships.
Men can have a tremendous amount of profound shame when talking about trauma, for example not being able to defend themselves against a molester or having been in combat and witnessing a friend dying.
The PHBH Men’s Program provides men with a safe space to talk about their feelings and experiences — a space that is free of competition and judgment, where men can let their guard down and open up.
Through a variety of group and individual therapy sessions, as well as coping and life skills training sessions, the program helps men to:
• Understand the relationship between trauma and psychiatric symptoms
• Establish and maintain safety
• Facilitate healthy ways of managing emotions, such as recognizing triggers and practicing mindfulness
• Avoid the pitfalls of substance use
• Learn coping and relationship building skills, such as how to get along in social situations and how to tolerate stress
• Build self-esteem and self-confidence through self-empowerment
In other words, the program provides patients tools and techniques to manage feelings and emotions instead of their previous behaviors, which might include acts of aggression or violence or conversely, patients isolating themselves from others. In addition, the program offers alternatives to patients engaging in substance abuse and teaches concrete skills that patients leave with at the end of each treatment day.
The PHBH Men’s Program, which is one of the first of its kind nationally, is available at PHBH’s outpatient site in Princeton as well as in Moorestown. The program was named Program of the Year for 2016 by the Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Health Care.
Patients receive a comprehensive evaluation and medical management by a board-certified psychiatrist, along with an individualized recovery plan. Options include a partial hospital program (five full days per week) and an intensive outpatient program (three half days per week).
If you or someone you love has experienced a traumatic event and shows signs of PTSD, seek help. With the right treatment approach, PTSD can be managed so men can go on living a healthy life.
To learn more about the PHBH Men’s Program, call 888-437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.
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