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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Psychiatrist Is Building Public Awareness About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dr. Jonathan Shay, a clinical psychiatrist and author of several books, calls Post Traumatic Stress Disorder an invisible injury suffered by many of our war veterans.

"When somebody brings back from war the absolutely valid adaptation formed in war to survive other people trying to kill you and doing a damned good job of it," he said.

According to Shay, PTSD consists of clusters of symptoms which include hyper-remembering, emotional numbing, withdrawal and finally the perpetual mobilization of the body and mind toward mortal danger.

Shay said when these three clusters persist into civilian life, the effects can be devastating. He also said when someone has these three "symptom clusters" and no complications, then, in general, they can adapt. They may be uncomfortable and they may be hard to live with, but it doesn't utterly destroy their capacity for a flourishing human life. It's the complications that wreck people's lives and can even kill them.

His best advice for someone coming home from combat is to sleep.

Shay said there is nothing more important for recovery than good quality sleep. As far as he's concerned, that's "job one" for everybody - the clinicians, the families, the veterans themselves and the veteran's comrades.

Sleep, he said, is fuel for the frontal lobes of the brain. Without that, people become "moral morons," Shay said, incapable of ethical and emotional self-restraint. He said if someone's sleep deprived enough, it's as though they've had a lobotomy.

If a veteran suspects he or she may be suffering from PTSD, Shay recommends treatment through the Veteran's Affairs system where recovery incorporates other combat veterans and peers.

Shay will further discuss combat veterans' mental health Friday at the inaugural Jack McGrory lecture on the SDSU campus. The 2 p.m. lecture, which is free, will take place at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

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