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Tornado PTSD - KOAM TV 7

Tornado PTSD

Updated:
JOPLIN, MISSOURI -

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is typically associated with military men and women returning from battle. But it can result from any traumatic event.

Violence, a car crash, or a natural disaster.

Mental health professionals say there are still plenty of people dealing with a range of symptoms as a result of the Joplin tornado 5 years ago. Including Jimmie Zaccarello.

"Alters and sirens were going off," Zaccarello said. "And all the sudden you just heard everybody screaming. And ripping, and tearing and crunching. And I just prayed to god, make this quick. If I'm gonna die, make this quick."

"I think we need a break," Zaccarello said. Stepping out of the room after recounting his experience of May 22nd, 2011.

Zaccarello was inside the former Home Depot when it collapsed. He still has physical injuries as a result of being pinned under a wall, along with mental scars. Zaccarello is clinically diagnosed with chronic PTSD. He's one of many suffering mental trauma as a result of the tornado, which professionals say became a public health crisis in the city.

PTSD symptoms are  a re-creation of stress from a traumatic event.

"Our body determines a threat or a memory of a threat," psychologist Patricia McGregor said. A sound, smell, or sight can become a trigger, reminding a person of a time and place.

"And so our heart rate is going to increase. Our breathing is going to become more shallow. Stomach stops digesting. All of those things to prepare us to survive," McGregor said. "But most of the time when a clap of thunder hits it doesn't threaten our survival. And yet we remember when it did."

McGregor specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which identifies triggers, then teaches people how to cope with the symptoms.

For Zaccarello, his triggers are  hard to avoid.

"I haven't been able to go back to Home Depot for 5 years," Zaccarello said. "20th Street is like a crime scene. I can still see the devastation."

"I would say that Jimmie is currently struggling with a lot of feelings of anxiety and depression," Karen Faubion of Renewed Mental Health said. She only recently took over as Zaccarello's counselor.

"There was this lapse in time, and for Jimmie, the PTSD has kind of grown roots in him."

For many, including Zaccarello, delaying treatment or avoiding it all together has made symptoms worse and deeply ingrained.

He's currently a candidate for EMDR, a therapy using tools to teach your body how to respond to stimulus.

"I try to figure out how to shut things down when I have trigger points that make me depressed or anxious," Zacarello said. "I try to do something else and get away from that. If I'm in a situation where I'm uncomfortable I get out of there."

There are many more tornado survivors suffering symptoms of PTSD, who haven't been diagnosed.

"I still ask when I meet a new client if they're a tornado survivor," McGregor said. "Because they may not see an impact from the storm. But as we talk about it, there may be a connection."

"I don't think they realize there's an effective help. That they don't have to just live like this," Faubion said. "And this is Just the way that they are. And This is my new normal. And it doesn't have to be like that."

"I don't have any thoughts of suicide now. I'm just trying to get better. I'm trying to get back to the way I was," Zaccarello said. "I just want people who were in the tornado who are still suffering to come seek help. And don't be ashamed. Because it can eat you alive."

Both of the mental health professionals we talked to are based in Joplin.

Karen C Faubion

Renewed Mental Health, LLC

1530 S Main Street

Joplin, Missouri 64804

(417) 218-0724

&

Patricia McGregor

1105 East 32nd Street

Suite 4

Joplin, Missouri 64804

(417) 501-2116

Symptoms of PTSD, via Anxiety and Depression Association of America

PTSD is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later. The disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:

Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.

Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.

Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.

An explanation of the treatments mentioned in this story, via Dept. Of Veterans Affairs

Cognitive Therapy:

"In cognitive therapy, your therapist helps you understand and change how you think about your trauma and its aftermath. Your goal is to understand how certain thoughts about your trauma cause you stress and make your symptoms worse.

You will learn to identify thoughts about the world and yourself that are making you feel afraid or upset. With the help of your therapist, you will learn to replace these thoughts with more accurate and less distressing thoughts. You will also learn ways to cope with feelings such as anger, guilt, and fear.

After a traumatic event, you might blame yourself for things you couldn't have changed. For example, a soldier may feel guilty about decisions he or she had to make during war. Cognitive therapy, a type of CBT, helps you understand that the traumatic event you lived through was not your fault."

EMDR:

"Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another type of therapy for PTSD. Like other kinds of counseling, it can help change how you react to memories of your trauma.

While thinking of or talking about your memories, you'll focus on other stimuli like eye movements, hand taps, and sounds. For example, your therapist will move his or her hand, and you'll follow this movement with your eyes.

Experts are still learning how EMDR works, and there is disagreement about whether eye movements are a necessary part of the treatment."

More on from:

EMDR Institute, Inc.

EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program

Other treatments of PTSD, via Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Exposure therapy

This therapy helps people face and control their fear by exposing them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing, or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings.

Cognitive restructuring

This therapy helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way.

Stress inoculation training

This therapy tries to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching a person how to reduce anxiety. Like cognitive restructuring, this treatment helps people look at their memories in a healthy way.

Virtual reality treatment

consists of custom virtual environments that have been carefully designed to support exposure therapy of anxiety disorders. The treatment involves exposing the person with PTSD to a virtual environment that contains the feared situation, instead of taking the patient into the actual environment or having the patient imagine the traumatic situation.      

Medications commonly used to treat PTSD are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants.

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