It is common for people who experience life-threatening events, such as the Feb. 15 explosion at the Trojan Corp. in Spanish Fork, to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to a Payson psychologist.
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is more common than people think. Any significant stressor that would distress anyone - a natural disaster such as a fire or flood, or a man-made disaster such as a chemical spill or an auto wreck - can result in PTSD," said Douglas Ford, program coordinator of psychiatric services at Mountain View Hospital in Payson.The stress disorder causes a cluster of symptoms that include flashbacks, recurrent dreams, a numbing of responsiveness to external events, feelings that a similar event may occur, a sense of guilt for not following a premonition that something was going to happen, sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating, Ford said.
Ford was a counselor at Lincoln County Mental Health Center in Wyoming in May 1986, when a couple held a group of elementary school children hostage and threatened to blow up the school with a homemade bomb. The bomb went off accidentally, injuring a number of pupils. Ford was the leader of a team of psychiatric specialists that counseled the children and their families.
Ford said some parents were angry with themselves for not heeding premonitions to keep their children home from school that day. Ford, although he does not discount such premonitions, said it is likely there were no prior warnings; but believing there was a warning is a typical stress reaction.
"They (adults with the stress disorder) may become sad, withdrawn and restrict normal activity," Ford said. "There may be a change in their style of reacting to the world. They may no longer enjoy activities they previously enjoyed, and there may be changes in their interpersonal relationships. They may feel no one understands what they are going through."
Stress disorder problems usually surface within 24 hours of a traumatic event, although not everyone experiences problems.
"Everyone has a different process (for coping with traumatic events) depending on their age, support system and personal strength," Ford said. "All these variables interplay in how a person works through or doesn't work through the trauma."
Working through the stress disorder is similar to working through the grief process, Ford said. At first there may be denial of the event in hopes that the memory of it will go away; then the person may feel anger that they were involved in the traumatic event, and depression about any loss or exposure to potential loss. Finally, sufferers reach an acceptance level in which they are able to blend the experience into other life experiences.
Psychotherapeutic treatment may help speed the healing process and can be done on an individual or group basis, Ford said.
"Eventually people reframe it" and allow themselves to look at the event from a changed perspective, he said. "They did survive, they understand their feelings as normal, and they realize other people would respond similarly if it happened to them."