Many San Antonio-based groups and organizations are drawing attention to their offerings for people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as part of June’s PTSD Awareness month.
It’s important to remember that any traumatic event, including car accidents, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Monday was PTSD Screening Day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has a self-screen feature on its website, and experts suggest seeking help if there are any signs of heightened fear or emotions in children, veterans or in people who have suffered abuse or trauma.
One San Antonio-based nonprofit established a mobile app to help veterans get help called Sound Off. The app allows users to be completely anonymous, and veterans can speak to professional clinicians who offer peer support — without asking for personal information.
“Half of the people who need the help are not going to the VA to get it,” said Elisabeth Reed, chief of staff for Sound Off. “The number one reason that is the case is because they are fearful of professional blowback.”
Reed said data shows nearly 20% of veterans who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, and about half of those veterans have not sought mental health support, mostly because of fear, stigmatization or compromising their careers.
“The reason that Sound Off exists is to help those veterans who are in need of help, but feel unsafe going to the VA to receive treatment,” she said.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of San Antonio also hosts free support groups for veterans living with PTSD or trauma. Every Thursday, NAMI hosts a virtual, confidential, veterans support group. Register with this link.
For non-veterans, or anyone who has experienced trauma or is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, stress, anxiety or depression, NAMI connection recovery support groups are free and virtual every Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register in advance for those sessions here.
One out of four adults have a mental illness, and one in six kids and teens have mental health conditions, according to Brandy Flores, chief development officer for NAMI San Antonio.
Recently, Flores said many of the people her organization serves feel lost and confused after the mass shooting that left 21 dead in Uvalde last month, most of them children.
“We have heard from law enforcement, and we’ve heard from a lot of other people that, you know, after everything that unfolded and surrounding counties, they’re seeking answers, and they themselves are seeking help,” she said.
She encourages anyone who needs assistance with symptoms of PTSD or mental health issues to call NAMI for help at no cost, that number is 210-734-3349.
PTSD affects many people in all walks of life, said Luis Santos, director of behavioral health care coordination at University Health.
“Whether that’s through motor vehicle collision … witnessing somebody who was in a motor vehicle collision, knowing that a loved one has been in a motor vehicle collision, or as a professional working with multiple survivors of motor vehicle collisions, all of those four different categories all fall within a spectrum of the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnostic,” Santos said.
The good news is that PTSD can be treated, he said.
Short-term effects of PTSD include symptoms that could be avoidant or intrusive, such as avoiding places that remind one of the trauma or having flashbacks and nightmares. Long-term effects of PTSD include having a negative view of life, which affects relationships with others and one’s own self-esteem, interfering with potential for growth. But recovery is achievable, Santos said.
Best practices for helping someone with PTSD, Santos said, includes creating safe spaces and opening dialogue, but it also it means being aware that sometimes opening a dialogue in a psychotherapeutic sense may not be the best thing at that moment.
Santos said veterans are at a higher likelihood of developing PTSD compared to the general population, but there is also a strong need for treating civilian trauma, he said.
“There’s gun violence. There’s things like retaliation and retribution. There’s fear that this is going to be repeated,” he said.
Long-term psychological treatment can help heal PTSD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy and eye movement reprogram desensitization, a form of psychotherapy that treats PTSD symptoms.
For anyone who has experienced a physical trauma and received care at University Health, they have access to a clinical professional to help them recover. For even non-patients who need help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to get free, confidential support.
The Bexar County Department of Behavioral Health also offers resources, including telehealth resources and online guides for parents and children in need.
Women who have suffered abuse and suffer from PTSD as a result are also encouraged to seek help from the Battered Women & Children’s Shelter Crisis Line at 210-733-8810.
“We want people to know, ‘We know you’re struggling,'” Flores said. “There are resources out there available. And there are people that are here to help you and to support you.”