Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
CHEROKEE COUNTY — Invisible wounds.
They’re the result of “a painfully scary, threatening experience” that can affect both civilian and military in times of peace or war, and are better known as post-traumatic stress disorder, explained retired licensed psychologist Sam Hopkins of Jacksonville. Hopkins served as an Army chaplain during the Vietnam War.
According to www.bestmastersincounseling.com, annually, 5.2 million U.S. adults between ages 18 and 52 – an estimated 10.4 percent of women and 5 percent of men – live with PTSD. At some point in their lives, the site adds, an estimated 7.8 percent of U.S. citizens will experience the disorder.
“We hear about it after troops go through tough battles, but it can also occur during any kind of criminal assault,” Hopkins said. “Natural disasters or car accidents can affect us, too – anything capable of producing nightmares could lead to PTSD.”
National PTSD Awareness Day falls on June 27 (today), and it is part of a month-long observation that promotes awareness of the condition.
This disorder is called by different names: “Estar roto (Spanish for ‘to be broken’)” … “shell shock” … “combat fatigue” … the “jitters” … and it can display different symptoms.
A person can relive the event, either through nightmares, bad memories or flashbacks, states the Best Masters in Counseling website.
Or sometimes a person avoids situations that trigger memories of the painful event, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed or experience negative changes in beliefs or feelings, or even experience a sense of hyperarousal – “being jittery or always alert, always on the lookout for danger, having trouble sleeping or concentrating,” the site added.
A number of treatment options are available to a PTSD sufferer, ranging from “empathetic individual and group counseling, anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressant medications that can help reduce and eliminate PTSD effects,” Hopkins said.
In Cherokee County, resources are available through ACCESS (Anderson-Cherokee Counties Enrichment Services), which provides counseling service, behavioral therapy and short-term therapy for individuals with brain and behavioral disorders.
“We have a counselor who is trained in cognitive processing therapy, and my position is to help with peer to peer (counseling),” said Julianne Sanford, an RN who serves as ACCESS veterans service coordinator.
(The National Alliance Mental Illness Cherokee County Peer Support Group offers similar services to non-military residents in the county.)
Sanford also is the volunteer coordinator for Lone Star Military Resource Group, which offers a “War Wounds” support group for service members, veterans and families who deal with PTSD.
Meetings are on hold for the summer, but will start back up, as people have expressed interest in taking part, she said.
Led by licensed professional Ed Holmes from the Mesquite Vet Center, this peer-to-peer group has been meeting at the Woodmen of the World lodge in Jacksonville.
“Help is here in Cherokee County,” she said. “As far as veteran services go, we have to be creative with what we have because resources are limited in our area. But our goal and our hope is to make an impact, (despite) limited resources.”
However, Sanford added, “we have made great strides and forward progress with the community at large, although it remains a challenge those we are here to serve.”
These organizations are important not only in the services they provide, but in helping raise awareness and understanding of PTSD by promoting, Hopkins said.
“The more that people understand that our bodies have an instinctive ‘flight or fight’ defensive reaction to threatening situations, the better will be the attitude toward those who have ‘had too much happen to them,’” he said, pointing out that “some threats are so severe that our bodies stay so constantly vigilant so that we can’t relax or even sleep. Eventually our immune systems wear down from being always on alert and then we develop other health problems.”
Developing local resources is paramount for helping those with invisible wounds heal, Hopkins added.
“Self-help support groups need trained professionals to organize their meetings and guide the groups in helping each other. Funding for the group leaders and meeting places is essential for Cherokee County. (So is) a comment from YOU about how there is no shame in suffering from PTSD, that help is just around the corner,” he said.
The military community “sets up a buddy system that insures ‘nobody is left behind, physically or mentally,’” he said., and “the macho stoic code needed for battle bravery has to include how to render first aid for body and soul to keep troops fit for further service.
“That means saying the words that communicate that you’ve got each other’s back and can lay on the line with each other about everything, including the sorrows of war,” Hopkins said. “That kind of camaraderie cushions the inevitable blows that come in life, in or out of uniform.”
Knowing there are families here who “understand where I am coming from is a great comfort for me” as someone who has lived the military life, and the feeling would probably be magnified for someone who experiences PTSD, she said.
“I hope it is the same for them … the sign at the entrance to the city (that says Jacksonville is a military-friendly community), I hope it speaks to people that even though they don’t know who we are, this community hasn’t forgotten and that they care,” Sanford said. “It’s a hope that even though they may not come forward to seek help, we’re still making an impact in the sense there is a community they can reach out to.”