Songs to celebrate ABI strength + thriving

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

– Confucius

Human beings are emotional and irrational creatures. We’re guided by the heart, and we respond emotionally to the sounds that music creates.

According to a paper presented at the University of London, music can even affect our perception of visual images.

The role of music in brain rehabilitation therapy has undergone some significant changes as a result of new information gathered from research into music and brain function. Because music is a highly-structured auditory language, one that requires perception and cognitive motor control, researchers have now found it can be a vital way of retraining and re-educating an injured brain.

For example, people who have suffered an ABI often have difficulties regaining speech, particularly if the trauma happened on the left side of the brain, the side that controls speech and comprehension. Music areas are located on both sides of the brain, and music can be used to bypass the language channels that have been damaged. This “backdoor” approach has been used to teach those suffering an ABI or a stroke to regain their control of speech, often by means of singing familiar songs.

Therapists and physicians now use music in rehabilitation in ways that are not only backed up by clinical research findings but also supported by an understanding of some of the mechanisms of music and brain function.

In 2011, American congresswoman Gabby Giffords suffered an TBI after an assassination attempt on her life. Five weeks later, she was experiencing a challenging time relearning how to talk as she attempted to recall words for certain objects. A therapist implemented a program of music therapy and from then on, her progress skyrocketed. Nineteen months later, in September 2012, Gabby was able to walk on stage at the Democratic National Convention to address the delegates. And just two months after that, she met her assailant face –to- face in the courtroom where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The power of music in brain injury rehabilitation is two-fold –

  • It provides unconditional emotional support and enjoyment for an ABI survivor
  • From a medical perspective, it’s proving to play a significant role in the healing process of brain injuries.

Songs that instill a sense of strength and survival take on a special meaning for those with the affects of brain injury.

Here’s a list of 15 – in no particular order – with just this theme – compiled especially for Brain Injury Awareness Month – ENJOY! 

Heal the World – Michael Jackson

From Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous, the uplifting Heal the World was the song he was most proud to have written.

Carry On – Olivia Holt

This song released in 2014 by actor and singer Olivia Holt explains that life is full of challenges and that we must make the best of them by simply carrying on.

It’s Gonna be Alright – Sara Groves

This song by American contemporary Christian singer Sara Groves was included on her 2005 CD Add to the Beauty, its lyrics offer words of reassurance to those facing hard times.

The Climb – Miley Cyrus

Written for the 2009 film Hanna Montana, The Climb focuses not only on overcoming adversity but recognizing the merit in dealing with struggle. Try not to get too distracted by Cyrus’ back-in-the-day G-Rated appearance.

 Hall of Fame –The Script ft. will.i.am

The lead single from The Script’s third studio album #3, Hall of Fame also features hip-hop artist will.i.am and focuses on following dreams and achieving greatness in yourself. 

Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush


Inspired by the depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange, Peter Gabriel wrote this song in 1986 and recorded it with Kate Bush for his CD So.

Ain’t no Mountain High enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell


This classic from 1967 with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell relates the timeless message that having a special person we can depend on is paramount. 

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Written by the American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Brave appeared in her fourth studio album The Blessed Unrest and deals with having enough courage to say what you think and the importance of being yourself.

Hey World (Don’t Give Up) – Michael Franti & Spearhead


Musician, filmmaker and humanitarian Michael Franti wrote this song about holding on in hard times and remembering that all things are possible.

 So Small – Carrie Underwood

So Small was the first single from Carrie Underwood’s second studio album, Carnival Ride, released during the summer of 2007. In her own words, “it’s a feeling song on how people invest so much of their time and energy into things that aren’t really important, and how they don’t really realize it until it’s too late.”

Go the Distance – Michael Bolton

Written for Disney’s 1997 animated feature film, Hercules, Go the Distance focuses on reaching a goal while facing obstacles and the power of persistence.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

Journey’s classic anthem from 1981 relates that no matter how difficult the circumstances we may find ourselves in, the solution is simple – never give up!

Not Afraid – Eminem

This 2010 release by American rapper Eminem contains a defiant message urging us to take a stand no matter how difficult the odds. 

You Gotta Be – Des’Ree

Written by the singer with the track’s producer, Ashley Ingram, You Gotta Be was the first song on Des’ree’s 1994 album I Ain’t Movin’. New York critic Stuart Elliott described it as “an infectiously sunny tune about the affirmative powers of self-confidence.”

When You Believe – Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston

Written by Stephen Schwartz for the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt, When You Believe was recorded by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston for the end credits. Its powerful message is simple – miracles can occur if you simply believe in them.

#areyouaware

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

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Thriving after TBI: injured Corporal gives back to fellow soldiers

BY: MERI PERRA

It’s possible the expression, keep soldiering on was created for people just like Corporal David Macdonald. In recent years, Macdonald has climbed the Himalayas, run two half-marathons and he just completed his first full marathon. He continues to serve in the Canadian Forces as a reservist, while working as the national partnerships director at Wounded Warriors Canada.

It’s not a bad list of accomplishments, considering that just six years ago, Macdonald spent three weeks in a coma at the U.S. military hospital in Germany, with no fewer than 47 broken bones in his body.

DAVID MACDONALD
CORPORAL MACDONALD WHILE ON LEAVE FROM THE ARMY THIS SUMMER

“I was involved in a vehicle roll-over on a combat patrol near the end of my tour. I broke my pelvis, I dislocated my left leg, and that had to be surgically put back in,” Macdonald said. “And I had a traumatic brain injury.”

Beyond his injuries, Macdonald says that waking up in Germany, alone, having left his platoon behind, was worse than any injury he suffered.

“[You spend] two years, training, living together, we bonded,” Macdonald said. “To find out that they were still in Afghanistan and I was halfway around the world was just devastating to hear. I wanted to be back with my platoon mates.”

information: brain injuries which are the result of blast are different than other brain injuries

Today, Macdonald, like many injured members of the Canadian Forces, is living with effects of PTSD as well as his traumatic brain injury. He has no memory of the incident which changed his life forever. And while he is learning to accept the reality that some memories have disappeared (he says there are moments from his high school days which are gone forever), the fact that he can not remember this specific, significant moment in his life has been particularly hard to accept.

“My last memory in Afghanistan was orders the morning before the patrol,” Macdonald said.

We hear stories about the challenges members of the Canadian Forces who are living with PTSD and brain injury face. There are the facts: roughly six per cent of the Canadian military personnel deployed in Afghanistan have acquired brain injuries as a result of their service. In the U.S., this number skyrockets to 22 per cent of all military injuries. If you’re in the military, having a brain injury increases your chances of also having PTSD.

Most brain injuries acquired during military service are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Motor vehicle crashes, such as Macdonald’s, and gun shot wounds, are the other leading causes of brain injury. Brain injuries, which are the result of blasts, have different symptoms than other types of traumatic brain injuries. Typically, post-concussion symptoms for military personnel last longer than civilian concussion symptoms, and members of the military are more likely to have concurrent symptoms such as PTSD and / or addiction issues, along with their TBI.

Macdonald knows the facts. Many of the initiatives and partnerships Wounded Warriors Canada supports are about helping members of the Canadian Forces, and their families, deal with PTSD. In his current position, Macdonald handles third party partnerships, events and fundraising for partner charities.

“Last year, we gave out $1.36 million in funding to these programs and it’s just growing from there,” Macdonald said.

Programs Wounded Warriors supports include a nine day equine assisted learning program for soldiers and their spouses living with PTSD, a fly fishing program and the donation of funds to support service dogs for military members.

“Your odds of developing a form of PTSD almost double for veterans, ” Macdonald said. “There is a certain stigma, because [some] people don’t understand you can recover from it, you can go on and live a normal healthy life. It’s not incapacitation by any means.”

David Macdonald
CORPORAL MACDONALD IN THE HIMALAYAS

Over time, Macdonald has come to accept his new reality. But immediately after he recovered from his injuries, he said he needed to prove to others, and to himself, that he could still be in the military. And while he was physically fit for duty, Macdonald said he continued to suffer physical and mental pain, “stereotypical” things, he says, people dealing with trauma experience. His marriage fell apart and he pulled away from his family and friends. He contemplated, and attempted, suicide.

“I was going through things like depression and I had a lot of anxiety issues, [but] I wasn’t recognizing them.”

Then a communication came through his unit. A documentary project, March to the Top, was looking for recovering soldiers to go on a climb through the Himalayas. Macdonald, who at the time was the only soldier in his unit who was wounded, was initially a bit sceptical of the project, which was described to him as a ‘good go’.

“Half the time a ‘good go’ means that … you get to do an amazing cause and you get to meet people,” Macdonald said. “Or it can mean that you’re shovelling dirt in Northern Alberta for six months.”

It turns out, March to the Top was a legit ‘good go’ and the experience changed, and possibly even saved, Macdonald’s life. Accomplishing the feat of trekking in the Himalayas made Macdonald realize that he needed help. He learned that what he was feeling was normal, and diagnosable. It was PTSD.

CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL
CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL

“It allowed me to open up and come forward in the military and say, ‘hey I have issues, I need help.’ And that’s what started the process for me getting the help I needed,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald’s attitude is one that accepts the realities of his injuries while allowing himself to thrive. He talks about post-traumatic growth, and feeling stronger as a result of experiencing  injuries and trauma. It’s important to him that he is able to help his fellow veterans through his job, a duty he takes seriously. Until he accepted a paid position with Wounded Warriors this past February, Macdonald juggled volunteering as the provincial coordinator for Ontario while working full-time at a bank, and doing his reserve duties. The man keeps busy.

March to the Top team
THE MARCH TO THE TOP TEAM; PHOTO: CBC

“I  don’t necessarily see my PTSD as a weakness anymore,” Macdonald said. “I used to see it more as part of my life, now I can be stronger because of it.”

Macdonald says he doesn’t know the “future” of his brain injury.  He says it can rear its ugly head at any time, and some days are harder than others.

“Something they ingrain you with in the military is never give up,” Macdonald said. “This is not a limitation, this is something that is now a part of you, but you can still excel, and you can still do amazing things.”


Meri Perra is the communications and support coordinator at BIST.

 

 

 

 

September community meeting: positive psychology

At our September community meeting, Amanda Muise and Roby Miller from Community Head Injury Resource Services (CHIRS) gave a presentation about positive psychology.

We also had the opportunity to hear our long-time member Frank Bruno talk about running the Pan Am Relay this past June, and many of us posed with his relay torch (see below.)

BIST Members
Community meeting attendees pose with Frank Bruno’s Pan Am Relay torch (Amanda Muise and Roby Miller from CHIRS are with Frank in the large photo.)

Positive psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, developed by Martin Seligman , the former president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was motivated by wanting to know what makes people happier on a daily basis.

Seligman found that the roots of happiness are:

  • having positive emotions
  • being engaged in an activity or profession you love and can ‘get lost’ in
  • being in positive relationships
  • having meaning in your life (giving of yourself to others)
  • having a sense of achievement in your activities

And while it is kind of obvious, but also worthwhile mentioning, happiness is important because it’s good for you. People who are happy have fewer heart attacks, strokes and tend to live longer.

The three benefits of happiness

Other keys to finding happiness include:

  • the ability to savour – not chugging your coffee, but enjoying it
  • gratitude – being grateful for everything you have
  • having a positive attitude
  • mindfulness

Amanda and Roby gave us some exercises to help increase happiness.

Write a letter:

Take a moment to think of someone who made a big impact on your life. This person could be a teacher who helped you pass a difficult class, or an important friend in your life. Write a short letter to that person and explain the impact they had on you. You don’t have to share the letter, or even tell the person about it, though research shows that sharing this with the person increases your happiness.

‘Trick’ your brain into being happy

Body language can have a big impact on your brain. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses in her Ted Talk, standing like Super Man in front of the mirror actually boosts your self-confidence. Chewing on a clean pencil uses the same muscles as smiling, and can actually make you feel happier, because your brain thinks you’re actually smiling.

Practise mindfulness

It’s easier said than done, but learning how to pay attention to the present moment or purposely slowing things down can increase your happiness. Even taking just one minute to meditate can be very helpful.

Take a moment to think about your day

This daily practise can help with gratitude and mindfulness:

Take a moment to think about  your day.

Record something that went well: what was the event? What had to happen for it go well? Why did it go well? What role did you play? Why is it important?

Find your 24 strengths

Learning about your strengths and how to use them is crucial to leading a happy life. You can take about 10 minutes and learn about your 24 top strengths at the VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit psychology organization. You’ll need to sign into the site, but it’s free. Another great resource is authentichappiness.org

infographic about strengths
PHOTO: VIA INSTITUTE ON CHARACTER

You can find out more about positive psychology by reading Sophia Voumvakis’ post on Finding Happiness after ABI, here. And we wrote about Frank’s Pan Am Relay experience this summer, right here.

There are a lot of meditation apps you can use, including some which are specific for brain injury. We’ve also discussed mindfulness at other community meetings, which you can read about here.

NEXT COMMUNITY MEETING:  MONDAY, OCTOBER 26th

TOPIC: TECHNOLOGY AND ABI

Finding happiness after brain injury

BY: SOPHIA VOUMVAKIS

How can we survive, and perhaps even find happiness after experiencing loss or trauma ?This is a question that has fascinated me ever since surviving my traumatic brain injury almost four years ago.

woman doing yoga
photo credit: via photopin (license)

I reviewed the writings of Martin Seligman, the leading authority in the fields of positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. [We also talked about positive psychology at our August community meeting.]  It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as it is with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.

Seligman identifies three types of happiness: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. The pleasant life is amassing as many pleasurable experiences as you can and learning to savour those moments by practicing mindfulness techniques. The way psychologists help people experience the pleasant life is to have them create their perfect day, and using the techniques of mindfulness, savour those activities.

What would your perfect day look like? Mine would include an early morning yoga session, followed by a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola, and a latte (prepared by someone else, of course!); an ocean, a beach, and a good book; a lunch of fresh fish and greens by the seaside; my requisite afternoon nap; followed by a hike; and, getting all dressed up for a dinner of pasta and a glass of red wine.

The good life is experienced when we experience flow, when we are fully engaged in some activity that so engrosses us that time stops. The way we can increase flow, or the good life, is to identify our signature strengths (you can take the test on at www.authentichappiness.org) and re-craft our life in the arenas of work, love, family, friends, and fun to make use of those signature strengths.

pasta and red wine
photo credit: Wine Spaghetti and Shrimps via photopin (license)

Prior to my TBI, I had managed to craft a professional life as a researcher where I made good use of one of my signature strengthes – the love of learning. Often, when I was in the midst of analyzing the data, time literally stood still for me, I would look up from my screen and the hours had flown by.

My second signature strength is a deep appreciation of beauty. When I look around at my home, in my closet, at my dinner table when I’m entertaining, that signature strength is in full display. When I reflect back on how I raised my two daughters I now see how I incorporated these two signature strengths in their upbringing, we were always discussing new ideas, new research, traveling, and visiting art galleries and museums. I derived great happiness from these activities and I think, in some small way, I cultivated those strengths in my children.

The meaningful life is achieved when we identify our signature strengths and use them for the betterment of others. When I’m reading books on psychology, neuroscience, and happiness, time literally stops for me – I’m so engaged in the activity. I have been extremely fortunate to have found a way to take this signature strength to increase the good life and hopefully to some small degree, the meaningful life post TBI. By sharing my learnings about TBI and how the advances in neuroscience may offer hope to survivors of TBI, I have found some meaning from my TBI, and this increases my happiness. For this I thank the Brain Injury Blog Toronto and its readers!

Other TBI survivors have used their signature strengths to become peer mentors, run workshops, organize social activities, volunteer on the Board of Directors, and so much more.

woman at sunset who is happy
PHOTO: HUFFINGTON POST

Do we achieve the same life satisfaction from all three happy lives? Martin Seligman and his team have conducted research in 15 replications involving thousands of people — to determine to what extent the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of positive emotion, the pleasant life, the pursuit of engagement, time stopping for you, and the pursuit of meaning contribute to life satisfaction.

It turns out the pursuit of pleasure on its own, has almost no contribution to life satisfaction. The pursuit of meaning has the strongest impact on life satisfaction, and the pursuit of engagement is also very strong. The pursuit of pleasure positively impacts life satisfaction when you have both engagement and you have meaning.

Which is to say, the full life is one in which we have all three. So, identify your signature strengths and then use them to enhance the engaged life and the meaningful life, and don’t forget a dose of pleasure! Wishing you much happiness!


 

Since her TBI in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research into TBI accessible to other survivors.

The Heart of Art

BY: MARK KONING

I have found Art to be a great therapy tool. I say that with a capital ‘A’ because I am referring to all forms of Art, from singing to painting, dancing to acting. For me, writing is something I use as my coping mechanism and support for understanding. Writing is my learning tool and aids my growth. But throughout my life it has been anything creative that has made an impact. It is the ability to use the imagination, to soar high and move forward.

photo credit: Writing Tools via photopin (license)
photo credit: Writing Tools via photopin (license)

I have heard many stories about the ways in which a form of Art has helped individuals deal with brain injury, such as music or sculpting. Creating seems to bring about a relaxation to the mind, and a flow to the body. Even listening to music can offer someone motivation. Looking at pictures or staring at a painting can begin to alleviate pain.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and because of this freedom, it can bring huge amounts of joy to the heart. It does this for plenty of people both with and without a disability because creative arts are like magic to the soul.

Doing the craft yourself or witnessing it within the pages of a book, a stage, the big or small screen; the brain becomes active and stimulates emotions. These are emotions which otherwise tend to remain stagnant when stuck in a cycle of isolation, depression, or frustration. Just calm down and pick up a paint brush, hum a tune or get lost in the cloud of the imagination. I’ve seen brain injury survivors come alive and develop a passion because of Art. Those powerful feelings can be transferred onto other challenges such as cleaning the house to going to a regular job.

photo credit: Massimo Ranieri Concert 2009 Taormina-Sicilia-Italy - Creative Commons by gnuckx via photopin (license)
photo credit: Massimo Ranieri Concert 2009 Taormina-Sicilia-Italy – Creative Commons by gnuckx via photopin (license)

Dr. Lukasz M. Konopka  states in Where art meets neuroscience: a new horizon of art therapy,

Various fields use the concept of brain plasticity. One such very exciting, emerging field involves the study of art and the brain, or art therapy. … in terms of therapy, there is no difference between using scientifically validated novel art therapy and other current standard therapeutic interventions. Treating human pathology using art gives us a tremendous alternative unique and novel option for engaging brain networks that enhance the way the brain processes information, incorporates external and internal data, and develops new efficient brain connections.

Whether you are looking at art from a scientific standpoint, a therapeutic one, or as just a hobby, there is no doubt that the effects that dance upon the brain are inspiring.

Since sustaining his brain injury at an early age and now armed with a Creative Writing diploma and a social responsibility, the goal for Mark is to share, inspire and grow, with others and himself. To learn more, you can visit his website at www.markkoning.com

Seasonal Affective Disorder and ABIs – is there a connection?

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

Is the holiday season really over for another year? Whether or not you celebrate, the holidays are pretty difficult to ignore, beginning with the first  appearance of decorations in early November followed by Christmas music on the radio and just about everywhere else. But by early January, the garlands, the red ribbons, the Christmas trees and the festive lights have all but disappeared.

So what does that leave us with? Dark long days and cold temperatures, with very little to look forward to until the first days of spring three months away. Is it any wonder that with the post–holiday let-down, people are inclined to feel sluggish, depressed and irritable? Even though the days have just begun to lengthen, April still seems a long way off.

photo credit: Smaku via photopin cc
photo credit: Smaku via photopin cc

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) takes its toll on many of us. Celia Missios offered sage advice on how to combat the symptoms in December. But what about SAD and ABI survivors? Are survivors inclined to feel the effects of the dark, cold days to an even greater degree because of their brain injury?

There has been very little research undertaken on the correlation between brain injury survivors and the effects of SAD. Despite this, Dr. Celeste Campbell, a Washington-based neuropsychologist, suggests that since mood disorders are the most frequent psychiatric illnesses for patients with an ABI, SAD could be more prevalent for brain injury survivors.

Surprisingly, there has been no research specifically linking seasonal affective disorder to brain injury. Only one article, a case study, linked the two conditions. It involved  a 45-year-old female patient suffering from SAD who had also suffered a brain injury many years earlier. During the winter, she was affected by bouts of depression while her summers were marked by periods of hypomania (increased excitability.)

The patient’s ABI had come about as a result of an arterial bleed on the right side of her brain when she was 17, resulting in partial paralysis of the left side. Nevertheless, after the birth of her first child at the age of 31, she suffered a second arterial bleed that ultimately led to more periods of depression. Medication brought some degree of improvement, but over the next four years, her symptoms worsened, characterized by variations in mood, energy, socialization and sleep according to the season. In this particular study, doctors were convinced that her mood swings resulting from SAD – particularly during the winter months – were aggravated by structural brain damage she had suffered many years earlier.

photo credit: fishwasher via photopin cc
photo credit: fishwasher via photopin cc

It should seem only natural that because those who have suffered brain injuries are particularly prone to mood disorders, they would be more likely to feel the effects of seasonal change. Yet only when more research on the subject is undertaken will we be provided with more definitive answers.

Do you think there is there a connection between ABI and seasonal affective disorder? Email us at info@bist.ca or Tweet us @BraininjuryTO and tell us what you think!

Canadian veterans: dealing with ABI and PTSD

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

Travelling to a foreign country to engage in combat. Witnessing injuries, death and destruction on a regular basis. Forced to endure tough living conditions. Is it any wonder members of the Canadian armed forces who see action return home not only with physical, but with mental and emotional trauma as well?

Broken bones and musculoskeletal injuries can be healed. More challenging however, are the emotional afflictions men and women in the armed services can suffer, and surely among the most devastating is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Soldier in combat
photo credit: C. Maxwell Horn via photopin cc

PTSD has been much in the news over the last few years, which could give the mistaken impression that it is a new condition.

In fact, PTSD has been around for a very long time, but under different names. Among these were “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.” I remember my mother telling me about a great-uncle of a friend of hers, explaining that he had seen action in WWII and was ‘never the same again’. “He was shell-shocked and couldn’t do much after the war was over,” she used to tell me, shaking her head. While the name has become more clinical, the symptoms remain the same., PTSD is defined as:

A debilitating psychological condition triggered by a major traumatic event, such as rape, war, a terrorist act, death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a catastrophic accident. It is marked by upsetting memories or thoughts of the ordeal,”blunting” of emotions,increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes”.

2 army women doing deep breathing exercises
photo credit: MilitaryHealth via photopin cc

Symptoms

Most people have been involved in a frightening situation at some point in their lives, and reactions vary from person to person. Some might feel nervous at times, while others might have a difficult time sleeping as they go over the details of the incident in their minds. Over time, symptoms usually decrease, and sufferers affected eventually return to their normal lives.

However, in the case of PTSD, the effects last a considerably longer time and can seriously disrupt a person’s life.

Doctors refer to three symptoms that define PTSD: intrusion, avoidance and hyperarousal. Intrusion is the inability to keep memories of the event that sparked it from returning. Avoidance refers to the attempt to avoid anything that may trigger those memories, and hyperarousal is the constant feeling that danger or disaster is imminent. These may also be accompanied by an inability to concentrate, extreme irritability or sometimes violent behaviour.

Those affected can experience recurring nightmares, flashbacks or recollections of the event or incident. They can feel “on edge” all the time, have difficulty in concentrating, be irritable and have problems sleeping . A common symptom among veterans is something known as nocturnal myoclonus, a sudden spasm of the whole body while sleeping or drifting off into sleep. It lasts for about a fraction of a second, but may occur several times in a single night. Often people with PTSD will sleep through such a spasm, but it can be extremely disturbing to their partner.

People suffering from PTSD may also feel disconnected from their thoughts and have a hard time expressing emotions. It can lead to depression, substance abuse and create problems in a person’s personal life. Suicide is often seen as the only way out.

Not surprisingly, those in certain occupations, such as policing, firefighting and the military have much higher rates of PTSD than those in other professions. And in some cases, trauma such as warfare can cause symptoms even beyond those commonly associated with PTSD, resulting in a state known as “complex PTSD.”

members of the military doing yoga
photo credit: MilitaryHealth via photopin cc

Brain Injury and PTSD

A study released by the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in February 2012, reported of a possible correlation between acquired brain injuries and PTSD, suggesting that people who suffer even a mild brain injury are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

UCLA professor of psychology Michael Fanselow found that this relationship was particularly prevalent among veterans who had returned from overseas. The reasons for the connection are not yet fully clear. Nevertheless, in an experiment with rats, scientists used procedures to separate physical and emotional trauma, training the rats by using “fear conditioning” techniques two days after they had experienced a concussive brain trauma, thereby demonstrating that the brain injury and the experience of fear had occurred on two separate days. As Dr. Fanselow explained:

We found that the rats with the earlier TBI acquired more fear than control rats (without TBI). Something about the brain injury rendered them more susceptible to acquiring an inappropriately strong fear. It was as if the injury primed the brain for learning to be afraid.

Canadian Armed Forces in front of the Parliament Buildings
photo credit: Jamie In Bytown via photopin cc

Standard Treatments

According to Boston’s Mayo Clinic, the primary treatment of PTSD is psychotherapy but this is also frequently combined with medication. Psychotherapy can include any of the following types:

  • Cognitive therapy. This type helps patients recognize the ways of thinking (cognitive patterns) that are hindering the healing process.
  • Exposure therapy. This type helps patients safely face what is causing them such distress so they are able to cope with it more effectively.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements that helps patients react better to traumatic memories.

New Treatment

The Canadian military has come under criticism for its seeming neglect in both the recognition and treatment of PTSD ex-soldiers are still feeling the effects of combat. Last November, three veterans took their own lives over the course of a week, bringing the total to more than 22 since the mission in Afghanistan ended.

Nevertheless, a story from CTV News in March of 2014 reported a new treatment being tested that so far, is producing positive results. Developed by the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, it involves the notion of virtual reality in which a sufferer affixes a device to his or her head which simulates the circumstances that brought about the trauma in the first place. The therapist can then talk the patient through the ordeal, thus helping them to overcome it.

The federal government is now in discussion with ICT in order to develop a Canadian version.  The ultimate goal is not just to treat afflictions such as PTSD but to also train soldiers before going into battle, helping them to experience the sense of combat before they embark on the real thing.

PTSD can be both debilitating and life-threatening, but there is hope. If you know someone you suspect is suffering from PTSD urge them to seek help.

Those afflicted may find it difficult, for stigmas surrounding mental health issues continue to persist. Yet seeking help is the first step to recovery and it is readily available through such organizations as Canadian Mental Health. Suicide is most definitely not the solution. Those who have served in the Canadian armed forces have served their country well, and deserve whatever we can give them to continue leading happy and successful lives.

PTSD AWARENESS

Resources

If you think you or someone you know has PTSD or needs other mental health supports: