The Fourth of July can be a Rough Experience for People with Mental Health Issues

July 3rd, 2018

Independence Day is a fun time for children and for fireworks connoisseurs of all ages.

But bottle rockets’ red glare and cherry bombs bursting in air can be a nightmare for the millions of people in the United States who manage mental health issues on a daily basis, especially people who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Loud explosions and flashes of light that are reminiscent of artillery fire seem to go on forever while they wish the calendar page would turn to July 5.

 

“Given the nature of PTSD, any event or activity that could remind the individual of a catastrophic event could certainly aggravate PTSD symptoms,” said Dr. Cheryl Hurd, Program Director of Behavioral Health at JPS Health Network. “Many of these individuals will thus avoid any and all celebrations such as Independence Day that may place them at risk for flashbacks, nightmares, or other recurrence of symptoms.”

According to support group PTSD United, nearly 25 million Americans suffer from PTSD, which is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Texas and about 8 percent of the population of the country as a whole. While military veterans make up a large percentage of the PTSD population, they’re not the only people who struggle with the disorder. PTSD United reports that 70 percent of the U.S. population has a traumatic experience at some point – which can include not only combat experience and exposure to a terrorist attack and violence such as a robbery, but also exposure to natural disasters, serious accidents, assault, mental abuse and emotional issues. About 20 percent of those people will go on to develop PTSD. One out of nine women has PTSD, about twice the percentage of men.

So, what can we do for family members or friends who suffer anxiety and stress from the sound and flash of fireworks going off all night on the Fourth of July – and often for days before and after?

Hurd suggests the best thing to do is try to keep life as normal as possible and be ready to accommodate needs as they arise.

“I would recommend that the person with PTSD continue their course of treatment, and perhaps increase their counseling during these times of the year when events could spark exacerbation,” Hurd said. “While avoidance can be problematic for some individuals, attending celebrations where there will not be known activities in order to still spend time with friends and family is probably better.  An alternative would be for small, quiet gatherings.”

Hurd warned there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to PTSD and other mental health issues.

“For some, the anxiety from fireworks is not enough to prevent them from enjoying family time.  For others, getting away with friends and family may be best.  It really comes down to a patient-by-patient basis.”

Beyond PTSD and anxiety-based issues on mental wellness, family and caregivers should be on the lookout for depression around Independence Day and throughout the summer months.

While many of us think of summer as the fun time of year when our children are out of school, we’re taking family vacations and in search of adventure, people with depression-related issues may be having a tough time. For them, summer means a disruption of their routine because people they count on may be away or, if they don’t have family around, they may feel especially isolated and alone.

“Though it is common for those of us in psychiatry to equate certain seasons with certain moods, ultimately if you are lone or grieving, any time that is considered a ’family time’ can be fraught with the potential to worsen mood disorders,” Hurd said. “This is why support groups can be so extremely important for our patients, as they can give a support network to those who don’t have anyone else.”

If someone you care about is overwhelmed by Fourth of July festivities, there are a number of places to turn:

  • JPS offers a Trauma Circle group open to anyone who struggles to cope with loss after a traumatic event, no matter the nature of their issue. The group’s next meeting is 5:30 p.m. July 12. For more information, contact JPS Director of Spiritual Care and Ethics Lee Ann Franklin at lfrankli@jpshealth.org.
  • For an immediate crisis situation, patients can come to the Psychiatric Emergency Center on the 10th floor of the John Peter Smith Hospital main building at 1500 S. Main Street. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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