This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the impact of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
In case you didn't know already, the month of June is PTSD awareness month in America. The theme this year is "Take the Step," which the National Center for PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and many other groups hope translates into a broader knowledge about post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects an estimated 25 million Americans at some point in their lives.
Over the last few years I've written a lot about PTSD, mostly in terms of how it affects people living in America's very own war zones, the inner cities of America where guns are rampant, gang violence is well-entrenched and ordinary people are struggling just to survive. Oakland is one of these places, and we know that PTSD rates in some communities here are as high, if not higher, than the rates of returning vets.
That is not to diminish the high exposure rates among our returning veterans. It's estimated that roughly 20 percent of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan go on to develop PTSD. At the same time, the VA department has recently said that as many as 18 soldiers are committing suicide per day, a record high, and many of those suicides are sufferers of PTSD.
I recently wrote a piece for the online website BuzzFeed about an American veteran named Nicholas Walker who returned after a year in Iraq's Triangle of Death with a terrible case of PTSD. After being repeatedly ignored by his local VA office, and eventually misdiagnosed by a local doctor in Ohio, Walker's PTSD went essentially untreated. He took to self-medicating, eventually turning to heroin and alcohol to help numb the pain and get some sleep. But even that wasn't enough and Walker turned to robbing banks. Like so many PTSD stories, it was a tragedy that could have been avoided. I encourage you to read the story here: http://bit.ly/11nA27Q.
Meantime, researchers are continually discovering new things about how PTSD works.
As my colleague Alan Zarembo recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, a group of neuroscientists recently uncovered a gene, and subsequently a drug which, when used on the gene helped prevent the PTSD-like symptoms from emerging in mice subjected to repeated traumatic experiences. The study was first published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and could potentially lead to pharmacological treatments that could be used on vets and others exposed to high levels of environmental or professional stress.
These developments are also important to follow for people living and working with traumatized communities in places like Oakland, where children are often exposed to extremely high levels of toxic stress on a daily basis. A big part of PTSD Awareness month should be about education and de-stigmatizing the condition. Anyone can develop PTSD. Some people who have been exposed to horrific experiences never will, while others who have only very tangential exposure to trauma might develop severe PTSD. It all depends on one's resilience.
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.