PTSD affecting Central Illinois storm victims

Local News

WASHINGTON, Ill.–Dealing with the continuing storms can bring people anxiety and fear, and in some cases, intense storms can trigger negative emotions or even cause PTSD.

While it is most commonly associated with veterans, PTSD can also affect victims of severe storms.  One local psychiatrist says some people can over prepare for storms, even when the threat is not there.

“If you’re constantly feeling stressed or you’re worried that something bad is going to happen then you’re going to want to try everything you can so that bad thing does not happen.  That’s just a normal thing everybody does.  But with PTSD, these safety behaviors can actually start to interfere with life,” said Dr. Rafal Szymczuk.

50 percent of the population experiences a traumatic event and seven percent of the people actually meet the criteria for PTSD.  Some of the ways to recognize PTSD include someone reliving the trauma, having nightmares, flashbacks, or experiencing what are called triggers.

Another is if someone is going through physical stress; having trouble sleeping, or they are easily irritable or angered.

The last is avoidance.  They may avoid a specific place to not remember those memories.

Dr. Szymczuk says you don’t want to go through this alone.

“I do recommend going to see your primary care doctor.  There are a lot of medications that can help with PTSD.  I also recommend therapy.  There are forms of therapy that are based in the research, depending on the situation,that are better than the medication.  This is not an easy thing to just figure out on your own,” Szymczuk said.

“It is tricky to know exactly what to do, to try and handle it yourself.  I’d definitely recommend seeing a therapist or doctor that can help you with that process,” said Szymczuk.

Over five years ago the city of Washington was hit by a devastating tornado, Mayor Gary Manier says that he and many homeowners in Washington are still affected by the tragedy.

“I never use the word recovered, because I don’t think we’ll ever be recovered.  During the recovery process, you had that on top of you, and your house ripped apart, you came out to blue skies.  I think that’s always going to be in your mind,” said Manier.

Szymczuk says that many times, people dealing with PTSD refer back to what are called safety behaviors.  In moderation, these can be healthy, but excessive safety behaviors can get in the way of your everyday life.

“If you’re checking the weather app on your phone every 5 minutes and there’s no severe warning signs whatsoever, that’s not making you any safer,” Szymzcuk said.

It doesn’t matter how long ago the event took place, PTSD can come back at anytime.

“If anyone has any PTSD from any weather related event, then a tornado is probably going to be a trigger that’s going to remind them of an event that happned in the past,” Szymzcuk said.

Last Friday, sirens sounded in Tazewell County, and Deputy Chief Jeff Stevens had to reassure shoppers in Washington’s Wal-Mart that they were not in danger.

“The bottom line is, our concern is safety.  We’re not going to hold off on sounding an actual alert based on the idea that somebody’s going to be uncomfortable, we just want them to be safe,” said Deputy Chief Stevens.

If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, Dr. Szymczuk really encourages you to visit your primary care doctor or a therapist.

He also says another way to calm down is to take deep breaths in for a count of five, and then breathe out for a count of seven.

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