Screenings May Prevent Cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is triggered by the experience or witnessing of a tragic event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, insomnia and anxiety. The disorder can appear following any type of trauma, such as involvement in a motor vehicle accident or witnessing a violent crime.

Soldiers returning from a deployment often meet criteria for PTSD. Screening for the disorder is sometimes difficult, because the trauma occurs overseas and the return home may be months after the event.

A new study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) finds that despite efforts by the military to improve psychological treatment services and screening procedure, there is still much that can be done at the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to meet the needs of soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report, recently released by the IOM, is based on a two-phase research study and recommends that more screenings and improved assessments be implemented for the prevention and treatment of PTSD. The recommendations include a suggestion that primary care providers include an annual screening for PTSD among service members.

The IOM report also suggested that improvements to the availability of evidence-based care might also improve early identification and treatment of the disorder. The VA was also encouraged to explore options related to Internet-based treatment, telemedicine and other advances that could eliminate the barriers involved with treatment.

In addition, the report recommended a treatment approach centered on providing care to the whole person, not just the treatment of one condition. Mental disorders are often accompanied by additional mental illnesses or physical ailments, and treating all aspects of a person’s health can be beneficial.

The report includes estimates of the occurrence of PTSD, with 13 to 20 percent of the military personnel who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001, estimated to be about 2.6 million soldiers. Among those who have a diagnosis of PTSD, there are approximately 50 percent who also exhibit symptoms of other conditions, such as depression or a substance use disorder.

The research conducted by the IOM was initiated in response to congressional concern about the high incidence of PTSD reportedly occurring among military personnel returning from deployment. Congress called for the research project to be conducted.

The symptoms of PTSD range in severity, but can be complicated by additional factors, such as a lack of a support system and stigma from society. Despite the 430,000 veterans treated in 2010 by VA, the disorder remains misunderstood and stigmatized.

The first phase of research involved site visits and reviews of medical information, but did not include details, such as the rate of relapse following treatment.

An additional report will follow the second phase, to be released in 2014.

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