On August 29, 2016, Assistant Professor Michelle Lilly from NIU’s Department of Psychology gave a presentation to our HAC class on “Working with Clients Suffering from PTSD and Mental Illness.” She offered a lot of valuable information concerning this topic and shared some of her experiences throughout her career. In addition to her presentation, our class also read two articles concerning PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and mental illness. Both the presentation and the readings were enlightening and opened my eyes to my own misconceptions concerning the topic.
Going into the presentation, I was somewhat prepared because the readings had broken down the basics of what qualifies as PTSD. However before reading the articles, I was under the impression that PTSD was mainly used to refer to symptoms experienced by war veterans or people in similar situations. During Professor Lilly’s presentation, she gave a little more insight on the qualifications for PTSD. One of the things she spoke about that surprised me, but also made a lot of sense, was that the rate of PTSD is high among women.
She further explained that a lot of the high rates of PTSD in women are due to them being sexually abused at some point in their lives. Hearing this really made me sad because I began to think of a woman whom I personally know that has experienced sexual abuse. I began to realize that she fit all of the symptoms of PTSD. She was sexually abused as a child, and she always seemed to end up with guys that were either abusive or had a traumatic background as well. In addition, I realized that her PTSD had been triggered after she had her daughter. Recalling all of this information during the presentation made me sad because I realized that this entire time, I never realized she was suffering from PTSD. I always wondered why all of a sudden she was having all of these feelings of depression when in the past, she had always been good. I also knew that the birth of her daughter had triggered thoughts from her childhood, but I never really quite looked at it as PTSD.
I believe that my experience of being misinformed about PTSD is what caused me to feel sad. In addition, I come from a background where mental illness is not looked into. A lot of times mental illness is looked at as weakness unless you reach the point where you need to be assisted. For example, a person diagnosed as bipolar would be looked at as not having self-control or someone making excuses. In fact, that person would likely be labeled as moody and not able to handle adversity. As a result, we are taught to be strong and learn how to accept adversity because it is a part of life.
Although, I was always supportive of this woman, I never quite understood why she would react like she would. Professor Lilly’s presentation explained it all. It explained that some people with PTSD sometimes snap at small things because they don’t comprehend that they are small. This was my experience with this woman. I never understood why she would overreact to almost everything I considered to be small. However, I was surprised that I had already used some of the methods utilized to help communicate with people suffering from PTSD.
I can apply what I learned by taking into considerations some of the ways to recognize PTSD and use the methods taught during the presentation to deal with clients who may have PTSD. In addition, the presentation was useful in my personal life. For example, I called the woman who suffered from PTSD and spoke with her about the information I had learned and asked her if she knew anything about it. She informed me that she had in fact been diagnosed with PTSD but was not able to continue to attend counseling due to financial reasons. However, I spoke with her a month ago and she is now seeing her counselor again. I am happy that I learned this information because I was able to understand a friend on a much deeper level.