University of Cincinnati Health Stress Center helps Tri-Staters work through their PTSD

CINCINNATI -- A mass shooting doesn't end when the bullets run out or the gunman dies. For witnesses, victims and victims' families, the trauma of experiencing a mass casualty event can linger for the rest of their lives.

"About five feet next to me, I saw a man who had a gunshot wound right under his neck," Taylor Bend, a witness, told ABC News as he pressed his index finger against the lower left corner of his jaw. "Right here."

Images such as this one can shock the psyche so badly it chokes, unable to fully process the terror of a particular experience. Survivors' minds might camp out in the grass in front of Jason Aldean's stage on Oct. 1, able to leave occasionally but seldom to avoid a return.

Similar experiences of post-traumatic stress can easily follow any kind of disruptive event, survivor Serica Hadnot said. The good news is that recovery -- retraining the mind not to record-skip back to its worst moments -- is fully possible. The more difficult news is that it can take a long time.

"It's a process," she said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

Hadnot got help from doctors at the University of Cincinnati Health Stress Center, a treatment program that specializes in helping patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. Its team of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers work together to treat PTSD through cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy and conjoint therapy for couples.

That description might sound pretty intense, but Dr. Erica Birkley said PTSD recovery is built on a foundation of basic self-care.

"We recommend generally that you engage in healthy habits, so that includes seeking emotional support from those that you trust," she said. "Also engaging in regular exercise and good sleep patterns."

She added it's common for survivors of trauma to become highly emotional, paranoid or, in cases like the Las Vegas shooting, to experience survivor's remorse and blame themselves for not having prevented others' deaths. However, she said these reactions only necessitate extended treatment when they continue for months at a time.

And although the Stress Center is meant to help people overcome the most difficult events in their lives, the treatment itself does not have to spend a great deal of time revisiting these events.

"Treatment will address those broader belief systems without having to necessarily go into detail about what happened," she said.

Hadnot wanted other survivors whose lives had been disrupted by traumatic memories to know they could feel normal again someday.

"You can get past it and you can get better," she said. "It's like breath of fresh air for me."

If you or someone you know experiences post-traumatic stress, you can contact the UC Health Stress Center at 513-558-5872.

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