PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

An individual’s experience of trauma impacts every area of human functioning — physical, mental, behavioral, social, and spiritual. The economic costs of untreated trauma-related alcohol and drug abuse alone were estimated at $161 billion in 2000. The human costs are incalculable.

As Human Services organizations address the needs of their clients, it’s important that they educate themselves on how to address the specific needs of individuals experiencing PTSD. If you’re an insurance professional specializing in Human Services, you no doubt want to offer useful information to your clients. What can your Human Services clients do to address the needs of PTSD patients? Here are five tips you can offer them to get started.

#1. Screen for recent and childhood trauma. Trauma-Informed Mental Health Assessment refers to a process that includes a clinical interview, standardized measures, and/or behavioral observations designed to gather an in-depth understanding of the nature, timing, and severity of the traumatic events, the effects of those events, current trauma-related symptoms, and functional impairment(s). Clinicians use this to understand a client’s trauma history and symptom profile; to inform case conceptualization and drive treatment planning; and to monitor progress over time. Learn more at the National Council for Behavioral Health website.

#2. Have employees certified in Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour public education program developed by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) – a national peer-directed mental health organization – that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common supports. This nationally-recognized training course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health crisis and connect persons to the appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care. The program also teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.

Mental Health First Aid teaches participants a five-step action plan, ALGEE, to support loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, and others experiencing a mental health or substance use problem or an emotional crisis:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

For more information visit the DBSA website.

#3. Learn about Trauma Informed Care. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. They have developed the Trauma-Informed Approach and Trauma-Specific Interventions.

A trauma-informed approach reflects adherence to six key principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures. These principles may be generalizable across multiple types of settings, although terminology and application may be setting- or sector-specific:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, historical, and gender Issues

From SAMHSA’s perspective, it is critical to promote the linkage to recovery and resilience for those individuals and families impacted by trauma. Consistent with SAMHSA’s definition of recovery, services and supports that are trauma-informed build on the best evidence available and consumer and family engagement, empowerment, and collaboration.

#4. Provide suicide awareness and prevention training. Suicide can be a serious potential consequence of depression caused by PTSD. Suicide cannot be prevented with certainty, but risks can often be reduced with timely intervention. Research suggests that the best way to prevent suicide is to know the risk factors, be alert to the signs of depression and other mental disorders, recognize the warning signs for suicide and intervene before the person can complete the process of self-destruction. Resources are available to Human Services organizations for training staff in awareness and prevention. OmniSure Risk Management Consulting Group has a Suicide Risk Reduction Tips video series posted on their website.

#5 Destigmatize mental illness. Mental illnesses, including PTSD, can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to function effectively over a long period of time. Depending on the illness, an individual may have a serious disturbance in thinking, mood or behavior. Coping with mental illness is a challenge that’s often made worse by prominent societal stigmas. Stigma towards people with mental illness is often fueled by a lack of information and negative portrayals of mental illness in the media. Research has shown that stigma is moderated most effectively by a combination of education and contact with people with mental illness diagnoses.

Society beliefs are difficult to change.  Mental illness affects all of us whether we suffer from it directly or just know someone with mental health issues. Data shows that 1 in 5 Americans has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Awareness is growing but has a long way to go. As more people recognize some of the problems with their friends and family as mental health issues and share their mental illness stories — especially celebrities — over time, it makes these kinds of conditions more accepted and commonplace. People like Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher are good examples of that.

When it comes to what Human Services professionals can do to help these kinds of patients, one of the most important things they can do is listen. Resist the urge to give advice. These patients have probably given themselves more advice than anyone can imagine, but they can’t seem to follow through because of the mental illness. Once you have listened and expressed support, encourage the patient to work with mental health professionals and follow treatment recommendations. Then go back to listening to validate the person’s experience.

More information can be found on the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.