Michelle Obama challenge brings focus to post-traumatic stress disorder

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First Lady Michelle Obama announced last week that 130 medical schools across the United States are pledging to adjust their curriculum and provide programs to promote the study and treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I’m inspired to see our nation’s medical schools step up to address this pressing need for our veterans and military families,” Obama said in a news release last week. “By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they’re ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned.”

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Let Freedom Ring Celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened.

This condition is common among veterans, but rarely spoken of because of its personal nature, as in Andee-Dawn Mortensen’s case. Mortensen, a sophomore and exercise science major at BYU, grew up in a military family. When she was 13 years old her father left to do a tour of duty in Iraq.

“My dad, before he left, was always very patient and very calm,” Mortensen said. “But when he came back from Iraq, it was a lot different. He got upset way easier. When he got angry, afterward he felt really bad about it. He knew he wasn’t himself and he knew it was the effects of the war.”

Mortensen explained that, in some ways, the marked change in soldiers when they return, can be harder on families than their actual deployment.

“I don’t think a lot of people, especially in certain areas where there’s not as much exposure to the military, I don’t think they really understand what the family goes through and what that soldier goes through,” she said.

The pledges made by medical schools across the country will hopefully change that.

The University of Utah Medical  School is the only school in Utah asked to participate the program. The U.’s medical program is the only accredited medical and osteopathic school in the region.

“We are proud to join this effort,” said Chris Nelson, assistant vice president of Public Affairs at University of Utah Health Care, in an email. “We want to ensure that our veterans receive not only the best medical care but also the medical care they have earned. Our servicewomen and servicemen have made tremendous sacrifices and we want to be part of the solution to give them the care they need.”

Because the initiative is brand new, the University of Utah does not have any specific goals implemented as of yet, however they do have some ideas for the future.

“We do know that case studies are an important part of studying PTSD, and looking at these case studies is a very good way to introduce medical students to these issues,” Nelson said.

Mortensen feels the health issues our veterans face need more attention. Currently, the military requires, during a two-week period after a soldier’s return from combat, that they report daily to show their preparedness to return to work, Mortensen said.

“A lot of them do come back and commit suicide or develop really bad drinking and drug habits,” she said. “But I think recovery takes more than two weeks. It becomes a life-long struggle for a lot of these soldiers.”

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