By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.
CADA’s Amanda Walker has helped countless people turn their lives around during her nearly dozen years of fieldwork in New Orleans. For many of those she has helped, their troubles have a common thread: trauma.
“New Orleans has a high crime rate, and a lot of our clients have seen a lot of things from a very early age,” said Walker. “So when someone comes into one of our programs, the first thing we do is screen them from PTSD. It’s rare that someone hasn’t been through truly damaging circumstances.”
Although June is National PTSD Awareness Month, CADA is focused on the issue year-round. As the Director of Clinical Services at the Prevention and Recovery Center, Walker sees people every day who are suffering the effects of PTSD, many of whom don’t even realize it.
“People tend to think that their trauma was not as bad as it was. People will tell them ‘Oh, you can get over it, move on with your life,’” she said. “A lot of times it comes out when you ask them about why they are using, or their thought processes, or behaviors, like being jumpy or on-edge.”
PTSD is not something to be taken lightly. Those working through real post-traumatic stress can rarely just “get over it,” and in thinking they can, often fall into behavioral traps like substance abuse, which only accelerates their challenges.
Walker said loved ones can help those suffering from PTSD avoid these pitfalls, but only if they are sensitive to the signs of post-traumatic stress.
“The first thing you have to look for is hypervigilance. Does your loved one startle easily? Do they avoid certain things? Sights and smells, for example. Oftentimes people suffering from this issue will strike you as always being on edge; you think someone is really, really stressed out. They seem extremely fearful of their environment; constantly feeling like their life is in danger.”
Like so many in her field, Walker is driven by personal experience to help others.
“I came from a family full of substance abuse. Really, when I got out on my own I wanted to get away from what I had grown up with, but I had a college advisor encourage me to pursue an internship focused on substance abuse,” she said. “It was life-changing. I decided then and there that it was what I wanted to do.”
Today Walker works with people from all walks of life whose lives need positive direction and reinforcement. During June’s National PTSD Awareness Month and throughout the year, Walker would like the public to understand how to spot the signs of PTSD so that others may be able to get the help they need before becoming part of the system.
“I want to educate the public and provide the community with the tools they need to see and respond to PTSD. That’s what gets me going every morning.”