Why Hospitals Are Ignoring a Growing PTSD Crisis Among Civilians

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center (Jennifer Hsu/WNYC)

Undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder can affect as many as eight percent of Americans, particularly those with violent injuries. But many hospitals still have no clear approach to identifying patients with PTSD or helping them get treatment.

ProPublica reporter Lois Beckett found that Americans in violent neighborhoods are developing PTSD at similar rates to combat veterans. But, she notes, we’re just starting to measure PTSD in a systematic way.

What can trigger PTSD in civilians? "Everything from car crash to sexual assault," said Beckett. But unless they’re specifically asked about trauma by doctors, "most people just have no idea they even have PTSD."

Beckett said that trauma surgeons she spoke to were aware of the potential for PTSD in their patients, but the staffing costs for comprehensive screening were standing in the way. "We have doctors who are afraid to screen for PTSD because they don’t think their patients will actually get treatment," Beckett said.

Doctors and researchers are just starting to understand the scope and depth of the problem. "There hasn’t been that much research on civilian PTSD," said Beckett. "There’s still so much that we don’t know."

Lois Beckett's articles on PTSD are "Why Hospitals are Failing Civilians with PTSD" and "The PTSD Crisis That's Being Ignored."


Lois Beckett

Comments [15]

Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

Excellent program. Your guest, Lois Beckett, and all of the callers seemed very well informed on this topic. Glad I didn't miss it.

Mar. 11 2014 03:25 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Listener in NYC, I'm surprised any doctors don't know about "white-coat hypertension" by now. Does your PTSD take a form that makes it hard for you to tell them about it? Can you have your blood pressure measured someplace other than a dr's. office & show your dr. the result?

Mar. 11 2014 02:20 PM
Debora S Munczek from Washington Heights

I am a clinical psychologist with over 20 years' experience working with psychological, psychosocial trauma and PTSD. I have never worked with soldiers, always with civilians. PTSD has been a recognized diagnosis in the general population for decades, although there has been a significant increase in focus on PTSD in all populations in the last decade. There are also several serious and successful treatments for trauma, not just CBT. And it is absolutely not always the recommended or best treatment in a significant group of people. As a very experienced trauma therapist, I know that one needs to know a variety of techniques, not just one, if one wants to be helpful. I was very disappointed in what a limited overview was provided by the interviewee. There are so many highly knowledgeable people and so much rich information, a more nuanced and informed discussion could have taken place.
Debora Munczek, Ph.D.

Mar. 11 2014 01:33 PM

America land of opportunity, I'm reminded of the massive lynchings of black males in this country and the hoards of black american migrants who fled north to escape the rampant terrorism against blacks. But the lessons of trauma passed on to black males and females has never been acknowledged.

Mar. 11 2014 01:33 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I was mostly thinking about civilians who live in war zones.

Mar. 11 2014 01:29 PM
Marc from Manhattan

The Amygdala is a VERY powerful part of the brain often taking control of the prefrontal cortex in destructive ways

Mar. 11 2014 01:28 PM
gene from NYC

This may be trivial, but in the 60s, this took place in a single panel of an issue of of The Fantastic Four:

After a 6 or 7 issue series of one thing after another, the usually wise-cracking teenage Johnny Storm is back home, back to normal, and sitting in a classroom in school. In the panel, visions of star clusters surround him, as he thinks something like,

"I've been to the ends of the universe. How can I be expected to concentrate on this??"

This thread was never followed through on, that I know of. But as kids read/see movies of superheroes always cracking wise--

As people here and calling in are pointing out, many experiences can have long-lasting detrimental effects.

Mar. 11 2014 01:27 PM
D from NYC

I suffered PTSD after a vicious assault on me by a gang in an NYC park. It took about six months before I realized enough to get diagnosed, but I was surprised how quickly the treatment went. I used cognitive behavioral therapy and lessened symptoms in just a few months. Most people don't know how effectively PTSD can be treated.

Mar. 11 2014 01:26 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What about civilians who've been in war zones? I would expect they'd be at least as susceptible to PTS(D) as soldiers. Many of them go through horrible things & have less agency than soldiers do.

Mar. 11 2014 01:26 PM
Mort from Warren County, NJ

After a car crash, I was diagnosed by an LCSW with PTSD. Her treatment was EMDR, which was successful after 6-10 treatments.

Mar. 11 2014 01:22 PM
Listener in NYC from NYC

I'm a civilian with a diagnosed case of PTSD. There are a lot of us in NYC, especially due to 911. It's been an adventure, especially navigating the medical system. Doctors are often poorly behaved (inadvertently) and their usual screening scripts lead them into the wrong trail. For instance, my hypervigilance makes me have a pretty wicked white coat effect, which gets them on the "you have high blood pressure" script. Having a good therapist is very, very necessary. There is help for you and you can get better, but you'll really need to work at it. Also, it's important to note that PTSD spills out of combat into the wider community, so a veteran who has PTSD might well end up passing it along to their spouses and children.

Mar. 11 2014 01:21 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

In 1978, my husband spent 2 weeks in ICU because of a severe stomach bleed from an ulcer. He spent those weeks waiting for a rebleed, which did indeed occur. He definitely suffered from PTSD afterwards; never recovered emotionally. So betrayal by one's own body can be the source of trauma.

Mar. 11 2014 01:18 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

In 1978, my husband spent 2 weeks in ICU because of a severe stomach bleed from an ulcer. He spent those weeks waiting for a rebleed, which did indeed occur. He definitely suffered from PTSD afterwards; never recovered emotionally. So betrayal by one's own body can be the source of trauma.

Mar. 11 2014 01:18 PM
Lissnah from NJ

Are you familiar with "tapping" as a treatment for PTSD?

Mar. 11 2014 01:16 PM

Any new info on PTSD and the descendants of slaves. Can PTSD be passed from generation to generation

Mar. 11 2014 01:12 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.