Counselor says PTSD much broader than many people think

    A Columbia clinical social worker said Jason Kander's public letter describes many behaviors common to people living with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

    A licensed clinical social worker on Tuesday said Jason Kander's disclosure of his mental health troubles encapsulates many of the issues people with PTSD face.

    The former Missouri Secretary of State withdrew from the race for mayor of Kansas City on Tuesday. In a letter posted on his campaign website, Kander revealed he had been battling post-traumatic stress disorder and depression for more than a decade and had become suicidal.

    Jessica Tappana, who specializes in treating people who are dealing with trauma, said Kander describes himself engaging in behaviors that are common to many PTSD patients. For example, in the opening paragraph, Kander wrote he kept telling himself he didn't have PTSD because he didn't "earn it." Kander spent 8 years in the Army as an intelligence officer, a time that included a four-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. During that time, Kander volunteered for convoy duty but is not known to have ever come under enemy fire. Tappana said many of her patients make similar comments, saying there must be people who faced worse traumas.

    "If you feel like you are in emotional or physical danger of any kind, then yeah, that's trauma, and yeah, that can cause PTSD," she said. "You don't have to see active military combat."

    Tappana said the clinically-accepted definition of a traumatic event is anything that makes you believe you or a loved one is in imminent danger of serious injury or death. She said that can encompass anything from combat or rape to a fatal car crash.

    Kander wrote he kept trying to find ways around his problems, such as focusing on his public service. Tappana said avoidant behavior is very common in people dealing with PTSD. She said she likened it to trying to push a beach ball underwater--the harder you push it under the water, the greater the force with which it pops back to the surface. Other behaviors include hyper vigilance and anxiety over common tasks.

    Tappana said not all PTSD cases involve a major traumatic event. A series of small traumas can build up over time, such as a child growing up in an abusive home. In the case of a military service member who was deployed overseas but didn't see combat, such as Kander, she said the stress of knowing that you or your friends could be killed at any moment can build up over time and have lasting impact.

    Tappana said anyone who suspects they might have PTSD should get help right away. Once someone dealing with PTSD starts seeing professional help, she said recovery can happen in as little as 2 to 4 months.

    "The only way to truly resolve a traumatic memory, or to resolve PTSD symptoms, is to kind of look them square in the face," she said.

    Kander wrote he plans to return to public life once he has worked through his mental health challenges.

    If you or a loved one is facing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. That's the same number as the VA Crisis Line.

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