PTSD Hits Virginia Tech
Day 4 - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experts say a few may have difficulty adjusting to normalcy months after the Virginia Tech tragedy.
By Melinda Smith
BLACKSBURG, Virginia and WASHINGTON, DC, April 19, 2007 -- Jay and Debbie Wilkins came to the Virginia Tech campus to comfort their two daughters, as much as comfort themselves. "I felt very much like they needed a hug, but I felt like I too needed a hug. I needed to get my hands on my girls and know that they're okay."
The Wilkins family had seen the frightening pictures on television. A college friend was injured in the mass shootings.
Their daughter Erin said she had been unable to sleep after the day's horrific events. Her dormitory window faced the part of the campus where many of the 32 victims died. "It's not just people I don't know and unnamed faces. It's people I know and I've been with for four years."
Thousands of her college friends and faculty members also sought ways of understanding why such a horrible thing could happen to them.
At a memorial service Tuesday (April 17th) they heard words of sympathy from President Bush. "Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow."
Mr. Bush told them he understood that Monday may well turn out to be the worst day of their lives.
Surprisingly, however, psychiatrist James Griffith of George Washington University says most of those on the Virginia Tech campus that day will recover emotionally. Sharing their experiences with others who also lived through it is part of he calls "psychological first aid." "As awful as it is, human beings are well-built to get through tragedy to recover. Most people are."
Having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, feeling alienated from others, getting angry easily, and guilt -- because you survived and others did not -- are recognizable symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For most people, normal adjustment after such a traumatic event takes about eight weeks. But for those who continue to have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress into the second or third month, Dr. Griffith says they should seek treatment and possibly medication.
"We know that what does render a person vulnerable to illness -- to really developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- is that the brain is held in too high a state of alarm for too long. So in the aftermath of a tragedy like this is what people most need is as quickly a felt sense of safety and security."
For some of the students and faculty, there may be one positive outcome from a life changing event like the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
Psychiatrists call it 'post traumatic growth.' Those who have experienced it say a crisis often gives them a new appreciation for life, and something they can draw on as a source for strength and spiritual development.