Hurricane Matthew could leave PTSD in it’s wake

(SAVANNAH) There may be victims of Hurricane Matthew in the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire who do not yet realize just how deeply they’ve been affected. For some, the aftermath may mean living with post traumatic stress disorder. Lynne Harris, a licensed professional mental health therapist in private practice in St. Mary’s, Georgia, says if PTSD is left unchecked, Hurricane Matthew could still claim lives in the weeks, months, and even years ahead. “It can go all the way to wanting to die. Another thing that happens if it’s not treated properly is people use chemical substances to, to ya’ know, to mitigate some of the symptoms. There’s a whole lot of things that can happen as a result of a big storm like that where it produces post traumatic stress symptoms.” said Harris.  She says she’s been treating PTSD for 16 years and many who seek help develop alcohol and drug addictions as a means to cope with the disorder.

Tell tale signs of the disorder include symptoms that fall into two categories: Intrusive and Avoidance. Harris says the intrusive symptoms include anxiety, panic, nightmares and even flashbacks. She says the avoidance symptoms means those with PTSD try to avoid people, places, and things that remind the person of the trauma they experienced. “Even people who are used to functioning at a very high level can find themselves suddenly, like, unable to do daily life things or even work for example.” Harris said.

Post traumatic stress disorder prompted former WSAV Coastal Sunrise Anchor, Dave Kartunen to change career paths and leave broadcast news earlier this year. He says living with the disorder has been a constant since he covered Hurricane Katrina while working for a television station in Miami 16 years ago. “Tracking storms was my job. Tracking storms was something I got good at, tracking storms is something that ruined my life…um…and has not sort of gone away. Everyday tasks, in my profession, became very, very difficult to accomplish because that life or death experience of getting the story was with me every day in the newsroom, storm or no storm.” said Kartunen. He says he’s opening up about the decision to step away from TV news for the first time because Hurricane Matthew may do to someone else in this region, what Katrina did to him. “The amount of help that I have received, um, the ways that I’ve been trained to create new, sort of neurological pathways to go down to feel better, to function, to live a much more happy and fulfilling life, are amazing and can be, can be taught to anybody who suffers from this.” Kartunen said.

Post traumatic stress syndrome is treatable and it can be managed successfully with the right coping skills according to Kartunen and Harris. “What happens with post traumatic stress is what’s in the past suddenly reinserts itself in the present, so the most important coping mechanism is to stay grounded in the present moment, like, I’m safe. I’m in my house. this is not the same thing.” said Harris, who adds, “Post traumatic stress disorder is something that’s manageable and treatable, approached in the right way. People can and do get better all the time.” Harris said.

The PTSD Foundation of America has an online self-assessment test for the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

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