Final Project: PTSD

For my final project, I chose to study Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that can affect anyone who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, natural disaster, or attack. Many organizations such as the US Department of Veterans Affairs offer extensive material on PTSD and urge individuals who experience disruptive symptoms such as inability to sleep, edginess, and flashbacks months after the incident to seek help through various channels. PTSD is an illness that has been under continual development and is ever-growing in American society and Medical Anthropology has contributed to efforts to help the public understand the condition that impacts a vast array of people within societies all around the world by utilizing the approaches that we’ve been learning all summer.

The ecological and biological approach to understanding PTSD is significant as the condition is reliant on external factors and how they impact the mental, and sometimes physical, health of the individual. Experiences within a war zone are a good example of how the environment severely impacts the individual, as witnessing violence and often having a direct experience with it leaves many reliving the events months, sometimes years, after. Many studies have been done that examine how these violent and upsetting experiences impact people, such as the experience of children within a war zone or who are refugees fleeing from a war-torn country.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides a detailed history of the development of the illness and what the causes are, stating that “PTSD is unique among psychiatric diagnoses because of the great importance placed upon the etiological agent, the traumatic stressor. In fact, one cannot make a PTSD diagnosis unless the patient has actually met the “stressor criterion,” which means that he or she has been exposed to an event that is considered traumatic.” [1] They go on to explain that while someone may have been exposed to this stressor, they may not develop PTSD. It is dependent upon the individual and the situation or event which they are exposed to.

Looking at PTSD through an evolutionary scope helps understand why people experience what they do. Erin Finley talks about the rough model for treatment of PTSD and how “PTSD comes about as the result of an individual’s attempt to learn to avoid danger out in the world. Therefore, when a trauma occurs, the circumstances surrounding that trauma are imprinted on the memory in such a way that those circumstances become associated with high levels of physiological arousal and anxiety – an evolutionary mechanism intended to help the individual avoid similar dangers in future.” [2]

Using ethnomedical to examine PTSD is an interesting approach, as it requires looking across different cultures and within our own to understand how and when people seek treatment for an illness. It also examines when the person determines that they have an illness and what they decide to do after. PTSD is an interesting condition to look at through the ethnomedical lens, as many websites encourage self-awareness of having PTSD. Headlines saying things like, “How Do I Know if I have PTSD?” and “What Do I Do if I Have PTSD?” are common when looking through informational websites. They offer extensive lists of symptoms and treatment options, which generally involve seeing a doctor or talking to a trusted friend or family member. Like much of American society, people turn to biomedicine and doctors for help. While there isn’t a set medication that can cure PTSD, there are a variety of options that can help control and even help the person find some semblance of normalcy. The Mayo Clinic states that, “The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but often includes medication. Combining these treatments can help improve your symptoms, teach you skills to address your symptoms, help you feel better about yourself and learn ways to cope if any symptoms arise again.” [2] The combined reliance on biomedicine and alternative forms of treatment, like therapy and meditation, offer some help to individuals.

People with PTSD have a strong experiential aspect to their illness, as the cause of their condition is a traumatic and disrupting experience. Hearing their narrative, experience, and gathering the meaning from these stories allows a better look into the condition and how it ultimately impacts the lives of those who struggle with it. Anthropologists such as Erin Finley work with American Veterans to learn more about PTSD in hopes of understanding how the illness impacts the individual and their life and to help them find a way to recover and continue past their experience. [3] It is in no way a simple and easy illness to tackle, rather it involves dredging up painful memories and difficult experiences and can be a large and traumatic hurdle to overcome. Finley was interested in what was considered traumatic for each individual, as the variation was entirely dependent on personal, sociocultural, and various other factors. What is traumatic for one person may not be the same experience for another. This is where the experiential approach really shines, as it gives the individual a chance to speak up and share their narrative with others, giving weight to their emotional health alongside their physical health.

The critical approach offers the chance to examine how we treat, medically, PTSD within our culture. This approach focuses heavily on biomedicine and, as a result, Western responses to illness by treating the biological functions of the body. [4] As stated before, PTSD is treated using a variety of methods, some emotional, or non-medicinal, others are prescription medications, such as antidepressants or sleeping pills. The Western reliance on medication reflects in the treatment of an illness such as PTSD, where there is no cure, but rather medications to help cope.

The applied approach is something that is widely used in working with people with PTSD, as many of these methods offer something unique and educational when applied. It utilizes medical anthropologists training and experience working with people in a wide variety of cultures conducting interviews and helping bridge the gap between many parties involved, should there be a chance for miscommunication. Paul Farmer is a good example of an anthropologist who applies his talents and skills to help communications between parties. [5]

I believe that when dealing with PTSD through an anthropological standpoint, utilizing the experiential and the ecological/biological approaches would be the best, most efficient use of the approaches. Though I by no means dug as deep as I would have liked into this topic, (there is only so long one can make a post) the issue is a deep and intricate area.

[1] “PTSD History and Overview – PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/ptsd-overview.asp.

[2] Erin Finley. “Cultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Thinking on Meaning and Risk.” Neuroanthropology, June 4, 2008. https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/04/cultural-aspects-of-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-thinking-on-meaning-and-risk/.

[3] “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Treatments and Drugs – Mayo Clinic.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/treatment/con-20022540.

[4] Week 5: Lecture 1

[5] Jasmine Pui. “Unique Opportunities: Medical Anthropologist.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us16/files/2012/06/6.-Unique-Opportunities-Medical-Anthropology.pdf.

Bibliography
“Children and Teens | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Accessed August 19, 2016. https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children.
Daniel Lende. “Anthropology and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans: An Interview with Erin Finley.” Neuroanthropology, July 18, 2011. http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/07/18/anthropology-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-among-veterans-an-interview-with-erin-finley/.
Erin Finley. “Cultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Thinking on Meaning and Risk.” Neuroanthropology, June 4, 2008. https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/04/cultural-aspects-of-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-thinking-on-meaning-and-risk/.
Jasmine Pui. “Unique Opportunities: Medical Anthropologist.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us16/files/2012/06/6.-Unique-Opportunities-Medical-Anthropology.pdf.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Accessed August 19, 2016. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Mayo Clinic.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Treatments and Drugs – Mayo Clinic.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/treatment/con-20022540.
“PTSD History and Overview – PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/ptsd-overview.asp.
“PTSD in Children and Teens – PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” General Information. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/ptsd-children-adolescents.asp.
“PTSD Symptoms in Children Age Six and Younger | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Accessed August 19, 2016. https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms.
“Very Young Trauma Survivors: The Role of Attachment – PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” General Information. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/very_young_trauma_survivors.asp.
“What Can I Do If I Think I Have PTSD? – PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” General Information. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/what-if-think-have-ptsd.asp.

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