NEW YORK, November 21, 2000 – A new booklet designed as a primer for “frontline” professionals who interact with trauma survivors and people suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) now is available from the PTSD Alliance, a group of professional and advocacy organizations that have joined forces to increase awareness and promote a better understanding of this common, serious and treatable health condition.

Designed for easy reference, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Guide for the Frontline,” offers an overview of PTSD, as well as practical assessment, diagnosis, treatment and support strategies to help professionals:

Understand and recognize the PTSD “symptom clusters” (re-living the event, avoiding reminders of the event, and being on guard or being hyper-aroused at all times)
Discuss trauma history with patients in a trusting, respectful, non-threatening way as part of screening and assessment
Identify local referral and other community support resources
Recognize the effects of vicarious or secondary traumatization and the importance of self-care for those frontline professionals who themselves are at risk for developing PTSD as an occupational hazard

“There are a lot of things about PTSD that make it a challenge to diagnose, including the difficulty both patients and professionals have with approaching the subject of past trauma and recognizing the terrible effect it can have on a person’s life,” said Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, and vice president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). “Because of this, PTSD often is misdiagnosed or undiagnosed and therefore left untreated.”

“If PTSD symptoms are recognized and understood for what they really are and are properly diagnosed, it is easier to overcome many of the barriers that keep people from seeking or obtaining available treatment,” Dr. Yehuda added.

The PTSD frontline
A wide range of professionals interact with people at risk for developing PTSD or who already have it — whether diagnosed or not. These frontline professionals, who play a critical role in recognizing the PTSD and facilitating treatment, include:

Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals in various private, community and public health practice settings
Primary care providers such as family practitioners, obstetricians/gynecologists and internists
Counselors at domestic violence shelters, substance abuse programs or rape crisis centers
Nurses, physician assistants and other allied health professionals in primary care, public health agencies, or hospital or emergency room settings
Clergy and other professional counselors who advise people in distress
Law enforcement, firefighers, emergency support personnel or disaster relief workers who generally are the first to deal with those in life-threatening situations

“The role of professionals in the primary care setting is particularly important because people with PTSD often seek medical care for a range of healthcare problems for which past trauma may have a significant role,” says Diana Dell, MD, FACOG, Assistant Professor, OB-GYN and Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC and member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Because trauma history often is not recognized or associated with the aftereffects, healthcare professionals should include questions about past or present trauma as a part of all personal history assessments in a matter-of-fact and non-threatening way.”

PTSD is prevalent and serious
PTSD results from exposure to a traumatic or extremely psychologically distressing experience – 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, sorrow or a sense of helplessness. An estimated 70 percent of American adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop PTSD. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

PTSD often affects victims of personal violence such as physical or sexual assault, including childhood abuse or domestic violence. Others at risk include survivors of serious accidents, natural disasters or other major catastrophic events, such as plane crashes or terrorist attacks or combat victims.

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

PTSD Alliance resources
Launched on March 7, 2000, the PTSD Alliance includes four national organizations representing a spectrum of healthcare 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 the Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation. The PTSD Alliance is supported by an educational grant from Pfizer Inc.

Through its resource center and web site, the PTSD Alliance offers access to resources available from the four member organizations, including educational materials, screening tools, continuing education programs, and other published literature for medical, healthcare and other frontline professionals. The PTSD Alliance also offers brochures, books and education information for the general public, including Hope for Recovery: Understanding PTSD, a free consumer guide and video for PTSD sufferers and their loved ones and those at risk for developing PTSD.