In class, we talked extensively about the negative effects and complexities of PTSD. While the evidence that some maybe particularly vulnerable to PTSD (potentially as a result of decreased hippocampal volume), this got me thinking: regardless of the vulnerability, can PTSD be prevented? This question helped me to find an interesting news article from the University of California, San Francisco, titled: Can Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Be Stopped Before it Begins?
The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no”, but researchers have recently developed a protocol designed to prevent PTSD in combat veterans called Deployment Anxiety Reduction Training (DART). The small pilot program is taking place in Afghanistan, and it focuses on an educational component of recognizing stress response following combat trauma. The program teaches techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation. The article says: “…the short handbook also is a quick and clear read.” A quick read is always nice, but can this really prevent PTSD? The researchers are hoping the trial is a success, since mental illness treatment in the military is highly stigmatized. Interestingly, a French study showed that if the heart drug Propranolol is administered within 24 hours of experiencing trauma, people are able to better deal with stress and potentially prevent PTSD. According to the article, the drug blocks stress neurotransmitters in the amygdala, thereby preventing PTSD. Again, however, the stigma of mental illness makes this treatment undesirable.
During class, we also explored whether social networks can modulate the effects of PTSD or depression. Can a quick stress education course in the field prevent PTSD? I’m skeptical of any “quick” fix for a mental illness, but wouldn’t it be nice if it worked?