Nov. 17, 2023 – Army Reserve veteran Selina Jackson has years of combat experience … off the battlefield. Growing up in what she refers to as a combat zone in upstate New York, Jackson often witnessed brutal fights between her parents that would leave her mother unconscious on the floor. She observed her alcoholic, drug-addled father savagely beat her older sister more times than she cares to remember. She was repeatedly sexually abused by the teenage son of her parents’ best friends. Her father burned down their home. And yet, she kept these traumatic, often life-threatening events secret, until, that is, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she found herself stuck at home.
“I was physically unable to do the things that I always did to distract myself,” she said, as she was working from home, “which for me was horrifying, because I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m here, I’m in my house all day by myself, working.’” Her PTSD “became overwhelming.” She couldn’t stop the symptoms during the day. “I still had such a heavy load of guilt and shame. I didn’t care if I lived or died,” she said. Jackson was eventually diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide, twice as many women as men in the general population, and about 13% of young female veterans (vs. 6% of male veterans). Female veterans also disproportionately experience trauma and adverse childhoods before entering the military, experiences that are further compounded by high rates of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment during military service. Unfortunately, these numbers don’t paint a complete picture.
PTSD is often undiagnosed. Many patients either don’t recognize or run away from tell-tale signs and symptoms like flashbacks, guilt, and shame. And the range of symptoms linked to PTSD – such as depression, anxiety, isolation, substance use disorders, or suicidal thoughts – are also common in other psychiatric conditions. That can lead to misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and ongoing challenges.
For PTSD sufferers, the world gets smaller and smaller, they start avoiding relationships, work, pleasurable activities, things that they used to do,” said Tara Galovski PhD, director of the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, and a psychology professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
“But the memories squeak out in different ways, like when people are trying to fall asleep and can’t because thoughts are racing through their minds. They affect concentration, irritability, and the way that PTSD sufferers see and think about themselves in the world.”Without treatment, Galovski said, these symptoms can become chronic and create other kinds of health impairments “across important ways we function.”
Hitting Her Stride Through STRIVE
Jackson , now 53 and living in Ohio, credits a program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center called STRIVE (Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative) with helping her deal with the PTSD and turning her life around.
STRIVE was founded by clinical psychologist, professor, and retired Air Force veteran Craig J. Bryan, PsyD. The program is research-based and geared toward developing the best strategies for addressing trauma, gun violence risk reduction, and suicide in adults who are veterans or in the general population.