Nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and depression can be part of or accompany Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and some students on the K-State campus are living with this every day.
“It changes you in every aspect of your life,” Heather Kelley, junior in communication studies and veteran, said. “Now I’m happily married and I have kids, and this was 10 years ago that it happened. But I still live with it every day.”
PTSD can present in those who have “seen or lived through a shocking, scary or dangerous event,” according to the “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” page of the National Institute of Mental Health’s website.
Types of trauma
Michael Molloy, junior in secondary education and veteran, said there are several types of traumatic events that could lead to the trauma-induced disorder.
“It’s commonly associated with the war today and all that, but you can get in a car accident and suffer PTSD,” Molloy said. “You can get sexually assaulted. You could be drinking and almost die of alcohol poisoning and suffer from post-traumatic stress. It’s a traumatic event and anything that was a traumatic event can turn into PTSD.”
Jessica Haymaker, Center for Advocacy, Response and Education coordinator and advocate educator, said the variation of how and when PTSD can present itself is good for people to be aware of.
“I think just making sure that when we talk about PTSD, we talk about the expansive experiences that could present someone with PTSD symptoms,” Haymaker said.
There is an abundance of instances of trauma that could lead to PTSD. In Kelley’s case, she said she experienced Military Sexual Trauma, also referred to as MST, which led to her PTSD. Civilians abducted her while she was off work spending time with friends, Kelley said.
“I was given the date rape drug,” Kelley said. “I was abducted from the area that I was at, taken somewhere and violently beaten and raped.”
Kelley said the PTSD is now ever-present in her life and manifests itself in a variety of ways.
“I didn’t really even know what PTSD was before that, but for me I think the worst part is that — and I’ve been through years of therapy — but the worst part is that it’s always there,” Kelley said. “Certain smells bring back memories. The nightmares are constant. No matter how good your life is, it always comes back. Certain flashes, like I can’t go to gas stations at night by myself because I remember them stopping at a gas station.”
Memories of the traumatic situation can be triggered by sensory perceptions including, but not limited to, sights, sounds and smells, according to the “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” page of the Mental Health America’s website.
Carson Lang, sophomore in criminology, said his PTSD is minor, but there are things that trigger it.
“I don’t have it too bad,” Lang said. “I’ve found that Fourth of July really sucks, like the first few days in July, because you’ve got the fireworks and it sounds very similar to an AK-47.”
Haymaker said these memory triggers differ depending on the perspective and traumatic situation of the individual.
“Your triggers are specific to your experience and your context,” she said.
There are, however, other effects outside of the memory triggers of the disorder, including direct effects on the student’s college education. Molloy said he has PTSD, and memory issues that can accompany the disorder affect his education.
“One of the symptoms of PTSD is actually memory loss, and I have a hard time — I have to study the night before an exam usually,” Molloy said. “Studying weeks before, I will lose material, like I won’t remember something if I study two weeks later.”
Haymaker said memory and focus issues are components of PTSD that she has seen affect students.
“If you’re studying for a big test, let’s say microbiology, and you study, study, study for hours and hours and hours, but your mind is still processing that trauma and so your brain is largely taken up by that,” Haymaker said. “So when you study, the retention of that information that you studied, you’re not able to recall it, or you’re not able to recall it in the same way you would if you hadn’t experienced that trauma.”
Another possible effect of PTSD is changes in sleep patterns, Haymaker said.
“It also affects individuals and how well they sleep,” she said. “If they have nightmares, if they can’t sleep, if they’re sleeping too much, these are all ways in which the body copes with trauma.”
Effects in the classroom
According to Justin Manford, junior in economics and president of the Veteran Student Organization, these effects on education can manifest directly in the classroom as well. For example, students with PTSD may prefer sitting in the back of the classroom.
“A lot of teachers might assume that if you sit in the back of the classroom you’re not paying attention, you’re messing around on your phone, you don’t care about the class, which isn’t the case for somebody with PTSD,” Manford said. “They don’t like people behind them. It makes them feel unsafe.”
Behaviors like this may help the student feel more comfortable in the space they are in and, in turn, allow them to be more attentive to the class, Manford said.
“So to be able to focus on the class, what they are doing is they’re putting themselves in the most invulnerable space that they have control of their surroundings, as well as being able to pay attention,” Manford said.
Despite these symptoms and manifestations, there are other ways to handle the disorder, medically and otherwise.
“It’s just like any other mental health issue,” Kelley said. “It can be monitored. It can be helped.”
Caring for PTSD
Approximately 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Molloy also said PTSD should be dealt with and paid attention to like any injury should.
“It’s a wound and it has to be cared for,” Molloy said. “It’s not that the person is psychotic, they’ve suffered a traumatic event. They’ve seen things, they’ve been through things that are horrible, the worst thing on the planet, and they are suffering from it.”
Both Molloy and Manford said many students can take advantage of the four free sessions from K-State’s Counseling Services as a resource. Additionally, Haymaker said K-State’s Family Center can also be used as a resource similar to Counseling Services. Manford said he and the Veteran Student Organization encourage students to seek help.
“It takes a big man to ask for help,” Manford said. “So we want to make sure that just because you’re feeling these thoughts doesn’t mean you’re weak.”
Will Rector, graduate student in security studies and graduate research assistant for Non-Traditional and Veteran Student Services, said students with PTSD can engage in social interaction about personal experiences and seek out the resources they need in order to help themselves.
“I think the main thing is just talking with people who have that shared experience,” Rector said. “If you’re having an issue, putting yourself in a position that you know where these resources are at and having the ability to go out there and to find them and get them.”
In addition to medical and professional resources, Kelley said having a place like the Veteran’s Center in the K-State Student Union allows veterans to find other students like themselves.
“A lot of us are much older than the average student, so that already makes you feel out of place,” Kelley said. “Then a lot of the campus activities are geared toward younger people, so it’s good to be here in this group to have people that know and understand.”
Emily Betthauser, senior in family studies and human services and intern for the Institute for the Health and Security of Military Families, said simply being aware of the disorder and comprehending the effects it could have on an individual is something the community can do.
“I would say the best thing that we can do for students who are suffering from PTSD would be awareness and understanding of the side effects,” Betthauser said.
For people to understand the disorder, however, there needs to be a way for students to get that knowledge, Rector said.
“The flip-side on that is giving them access to that education, and that is something that we’re trying to strive to do throughout the different departments that we deal with on campus,” Rector said.
Online programs are one method of education, such as the Veteran On Campus Peer Program. This program is online training that students can participate in to help them understand issues like PTSD.
“By understanding them better, you can help them better,” Rector said.
The stigma for PTSD needs to be resolved, Manford said.
“Just because we have it doesn’t mean we’re a ticking time bomb,” Manford said.