MENDING PTSD SERIES FOR VETS–PART TWO: Traveling Back from a Traumatic Breakdown

After deep consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the best way veterans can help each other is to share what works for them in dealing with PTSD, a common term today to cover many things. Those suffering from this condition need to know there is hope, and one thing that has worked has been veterans helping each other, by meeting together, sharing their experiences and supporting each other. Since this is a national blog, it’s difficult to create an actual location for everyone to meet and hug, but it is a means where we can share our experiences in writing. I’m pleased to introduce Dan Slack, CD1, Sergeant (Retired), who has agreed to lead this self-help forum. I have tried asking psychiatrists and therapists to volunteer information for this venture, but so far none have offered. As always, we venture forth on our own. SO, please keep in mind, that what you read here are the results of each contributor’s personal experience, not their professional advice. What we want to know is how did they achieve a positive recovery from such a devastating mental state? Today — Part 2. BONNIE

Living with PTSD and Surviving

by Dan Slack, CDI
Sergeant (Retired)

DISCLAIMER: Dan Slack is not a medical professional

PART TWO: How PTSD affects the Brain

Researchers have begun to study the effect of PTSD on the brain. Recent advances in medical technology, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), have allowed us to better understand the role the brain may play in different mental disorders, such as PTSD. In regard to PTSD and the brain, researchers have focused specific attention on the hippocampus.

What is the Hippocampus?

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system describes a group of brain structures that surround the brain stem. The brain structures that make up the limbic system play a major role in the experience of certain emotions (fear and anger), motivations and memory. The hippocampus is responsible for the ability to store and retrieve memories. People who have experienced some kind of damage to their hippocampus experience difficulties in or the complete inability to store and recall information. Along with other limbic structures, the hippocampus also plays a role in a person’s ability to overcome fear responses.

Why Should We Look at the Hippocampus in PTSD?

Many people with PTSD experience memory-related difficulties. They may have difficulty recalling certain parts of their traumatic event, or alternatively, memories may be vivid and always present. People with PTSD may also have problems overcoming their fear response to thoughts, memories or situations that are reminiscent of their traumatic event. Due to the hippocampus’ role in memory and emotional experience, it is thought that some of the problems people with PTSD experience may lie in the hippocampus.

How Might PTSD Affect the Hippocampus?

English: MRI coronal view of the hippocampus
English: MRI coronal view of the hippocampus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


There are some studies which suggest that the constant experience of stress may actually damage the hippocampus. When we experience stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which is helpful in mobilizing the body to respond to a stressful event. Some animal studies, though, show that high levels of cortisol may damage or destroy cells in the hippocampus.

English: Laszlo Seress' preparation of a human...
English: Laszlo Seress’ preparation of a human hippocampus alongside a sea horse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Researchers have also looked at the size of the hippocampus in people with and without PTSD. They have found that people who have severe, chronic cases of PTSD have smaller hippocampi. The researchers have taken this to suggest that the experience of constant stress as a result of severe and chronic PTSD may ultimately damage the hippocampus, making it smaller.

Now that you know a little more about PTSD let’s look at some of the things I have done to help myself through these rough and stressful times and to live the best life I can with this condition.


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About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, social workers, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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