Four National Healthcare Organizations Reach Out to the Public and “Frontline” Professionals

NEW YORK, March 7, 2000 – Four national organizations have established the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Alliance, a multi-disciplinary group of professional and advocacy organizations that have joined forces to increase awareness and promote a better understanding of PTSD, a common, serious and treatable health condition. PTSD is the fifth most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder in the United States. An estimated 5 percent of Americans – more than 13 million people – have PTSD at any given time.

The PTSD Alliance represents the spectrum of issues related to PTSD, including trauma-related stress, anxiety disorders and women’s healthcare. Founding members are the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) and Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation.

“The PTSD Alliance is the first national coalition dedicated to educating the public about this prevalent and complex disorder,” said Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “Working in concert, we can leverage our collective expertise in the fields of trauma and PTSD to further expand our reach to the general public and a broader cross-section of healthcare and other professionals who come in contact with at-risk individuals and PTSD sufferers every day.”

An estimated 70 percent of American adults have been exposed to extreme trauma at least once in their lives. Extreme trauma is a terrifying event or ordeal that a person has experienced, witnessed or learned about, especially one that is life-threatening or causes physical harm. This experience causes the person to feel intense fear, horror or a sense of helplessness. Although not everyone who experiences extreme trauma will develop PTSD, up to 20 percent of these people may develop the disorder.

Once diagnosed, PTSD is treatable with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. Research suggests that treatment may help patients recover even if initiated in the years following the trauma and the onset of symptoms. However, fewer than 30 percent of patients who have PTSD seek treatment for their condition.

“Despite its prevalence, the causes and symptoms of PTSD are not widely understood. Because of this, PTSD can be misdiagnosed and often is not even considered as a possible diagnosis,” said Melisa Holmes, MD, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Sexual Assault Education Project Consultant and Associate Professor, Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical University of South Carolina. “Tragically, in many cases, this lack of understanding and awareness can exact a devastating personal toll on a person with PTSD and their loved ones,” said Dr. Holmes.

PTSD Alliance Resource Center
As a part of a nationwide launch of a television and radio public service campaign in the coming month, the PTSD Alliance has established a Resource Center (1-877-507-PTSD). Consumers and “frontline” professionals who call the automated toll-free number can receive PTSD Alliance booklets free of charge and information on how to order consumer education materials, professional development programs and other resources currently available from the four organizations.

“The Alliance’s goal is to help those in need to take that first step in regaining their lives,” said Edna Foa, Ph.D., TITLE, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Director, Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “We want people to understand that having PTSD is not an inevitable consequence of their traumatic experience. There is hope for recovery through proper diagnosis, treatment and support.”

Resources from the organizations include support programs for those with PTSD and their families; screening tools; professional training programs; books and other published literature for healthcare professionals; local referral information and contact information for the four member organizations.

PTSD Diagnosis and Treatment
In the United States, the most common cause of PTSD is trauma related to physical and sexual assault, including childhood abuse or domestic violence. Others at risk include survivors of car accidents, natural disasters or other major catastrophic events, such as plane crashes or terrorist attacks; and war veterans, combat victims and war refugees.

People with PTSD experience three “clusters” of symptoms that last for more than one month. These symptoms may affect many aspects of a person’s life, in particular, affecting day-to-day functioning, quality of life and relationships.

The three clusters are characterized by the following:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma (for example, dreaming about the event or “re-living” the event when faced with reminders);
  • Avoidance of reminders of the event, detachment from close personal relationships with family or friends, feelings of numbness or lack of enjoyment in daily life;
  • Feeling hyper-arousal, having difficulty sleeping, becoming easily agitated or irritable, or having a hard time concentrating.

PTSD symptoms usually develop within the first three months after the trauma but may not appear
until months or years have passed. These symptoms may continue for years following the trauma or, in some cases, symptoms may subside and return years or decades later. PTSD sufferers frequently do not seek professional help because they often don’t associate their symptoms with a past traumatic experience; they try to avoid dealing with anything related to the traumatic event or they feel helpless.

“PTSD can affect your ability to cope and can cause you to lose a sense of yourself and your life,” said Esther Giller, President, Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation. “For months, even years after experiencing trauma, PTSD sufferers may feel empty emotionally and isolated from loved ones. Or they may have physical symptoms that can’t be explained. Often they don’t seek help because they don’t make the connection that their symptoms are a reaction to past trauma.”

In addition to medical professionals such as psychiatrists, family practitioners and obstetricians/gynecologists, “frontline” professionals play a critical role in the recognition and intervention of PTSD. These “frontline” professionals include psychologists, social workers or other mental health professionals in private practice or in various community health settings; counselors in domestic violence shelters, substance abuse programs or rape crisis centers; nurses and allied health professionals in private practice, public health agencies or emergency room settings; and emergency support or disaster relief personnel.

Family and friends also play an important role in being able to identify the symptoms. They can help to improve a PTSD sufferer’s chance of recovery by encouraging them to seek treatment and providing emotional support.

Member Organizations
The PTSD Alliance founding member organizations include:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the national medical organization representing more than 40,000 physicians who provide healthcare for women.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), which promotes the prevention and cure of PTSD and other anxiety disorders and works to improve the lives of all people who suffer from them. The association is made up of professionals who conduct research and treat anxiety disorders and individuals who have a personal or general interest in learning more about such disorders.

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), which represents psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, counselors, researchers, administrators, advocates and others with an interest in the study and treatment of traumatic stress.

Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation, a national, non-profit organization devoted to education, advocacy and research related to the early recognition and treatment of traumatic stress and trauma-generated disorders.

The PTSD Alliance is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer Inc.

By calling the PTSD Alliance Resource Center toll-free at 1-877-507-PTSD (7873), consumers can order a free copy of the PTSD Alliance booklet on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and receive additional information on other resources available from each of the four member organizations. Professionals can order a free copy of the PTSD Alliance “frontline” professional brochure and receive additional information on how to order other available Alliance resources.