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Preparing For Traumatic Aftershocks

To the Editor:

I appreciated The Bee article on how the town is listing available mental health services on the website. As with any community, too many Newtowners suffer from psychiatric problems. Some of these individuals do not recognize the signs of their illness, try to ignore them or turn to self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Others know they are troubled, but do not know where to turn or are concerned about the stigma attached. The 12/14 tragedy greatly exacerbated the town's mental health needs. In addition to common depression and anxiety issues, healthcare providers are challenged with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a complex problem: Many people immediately show signs of PTSD after facing a tragedy – such as insomnia, loss of appetite, nightmares, obsessive mental re-creation of the event, and severe depression. These signs may improve over time, remain the same, or come and go with "triggers" or subtle reminders. It is unknown, for example, how people will react as the first anniversary draws closer. Some people have minor or no PTSD symptoms for months or years and then troubled through some memory or event. Columbine survivors spoke of reoccurring symptoms after Newtown's tragedy. Unfortunately, many Newtowners have suffered and continue to suffer from PTSD. The length of time and extent of this disorder for people in the community is unknown. However, it is known that Newtown faces this problem.

In addition to the information on the town website, it would be important to see: 1) An awareness program through the health department, local providers and the media on psychiatric problems in general and PTSD specifically. This will help people recognize symptoms, seek help and not feel stigmatized; 2) A collaborative effort of local private, public and nonprofit mental health service providers to determine need, unnecessary duplication of efforts and gaps of service. This mental health collaboration can also oversee the awareness program. For example, the volunteer professional medical staff of Kevin's Community Center teamed with the Psychiatric Division of Massachusetts General University Hospital for a workshop on acute stress, PTSD and grief counseling. How can they share this information?

The 12/14 devastation can easily be likened to an earthquake, where people must first cope with the immediate disastrous effects and then with the continued aftershocks. Newtown has to ensure that its residents are protected for any and all reverberations to come.

Sharon L. Cohen

8 Eden Hill Road, Newtown                    October 2, 2013

More stories like this: 12/14, PTSD, mental health
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