PTSD | St. Louis Public Radio


Younger jail officers are more likely to show symptoms of depression, according to new research from St. Louis University. These new recruits often experience "shell shock" when they first start working in jails, said study author Lisa Jaegers.
Gary Waters | NPR

James Dahm has worked at the City Justice Center in St. Louis for nearly a decade, but he hasn’t forgotten how hard it was to learn the ropes as a rookie jail officer.

Not long after he started, he ran into his lieutenant in the breakroom, who tried to offer some encouragement.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, it gets better,’” Dahm remembered. “I asked him, ‘Does it get better, or do you just get used to it?’ and he said, ‘A little of both.’”

Starting treatment with a mental health specialist often requires a wait of several weeks, but many psychiatrists and other specialists in Kansas City have waiting lists stretching over months.

While the need for mental health treatment has been growing in Missouri, many patient advocates say the state’s refusal to aggressively enforce mental health parity may be making the wait times even longer.

Marty Sexton, a 50-year-old disabled grandfather who lives in Peculiar, worked as a firefighter and then an army medic in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Enduring Freedom.

Tonya Harry, the chief of security at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis photographed on May 1, 2019.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Tonya Harry had been working as a correctional officer for about a year when she had one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.

During her shift at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis — also known as the Workhouse — she discovered an inmate who had died by suicide.

“Sometimes I still think about it,” said Harry, who serves as the jail’s chief of security more than 20 years later.

A recent St. Louis University survey of about 300 jail officers in Missouri found more than half reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander dropped out of the Kansas City, Missouri, mayoral race on Tuesday, saying in a post on his campaign website that he needs to focus on his mental health due to PTSD.

Joshua Eckhoff, 33, of Ballwin suffered a traumatic brain injury while clearing roadside bombs in Iraq. January 2018 photo
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Joshua Eckhoff of Ballwin smiled as he described posing for pictures at his college graduation in December — and how proud his mother was. Earning that degree is the latest achievement for the Army veteran who suffered a brain injury in Iraq 10 years ago that no one thought he could survive.

On Feb. 6, 2008, as Eckhoff led a convoy searching for roadside bombs, an improvised explosive device pierced the armored vehicle he was riding in and smashed into the right side of his head. His injury was so severe that the Army notified his mother that he had died in combat.

“I call that my ‘alive day,’ ’’ said Eckhoff, 33. “The anniversary of my injury every year, we celebrate it like a birthday.”

Matt Palozola greets friends at a fundraiser for the Zola Initiative, a nonprofit he started in honor of his brother. Dec. 15, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Tom Palozola arrived at Webster University after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he struggled to fit in with his younger classmates. But he found solace in in the Student Veterans Organization.

As its president, Palozola worked tirelessly to acquire a grant to open a campus veterans center. He envisioned it as a refuge for veterans who also felt like campus outsiders.  

Palozola had suffered a traumatic brain injury when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and died by suicide last May.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

In August, 9-year-old Jamyla Bolden was fatally shot in north St. Louis County while doing homework in her mother’s bedroom. She was a student at Koch Elementary, part of the Riverview Gardens School District, where school administrators have been working to bring hope to the students coping with the loss of their classmate.

A line of police face off with protesters on West Florissant Ave., last Sunday night.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Fearing for your safety or that of your family; witnessing violence; and the repeated, chronic stress of a traumatic event’s aftermath can all leave mental and emotional scars. Mental health professionals caution that last year's events in Ferguson have likely placed people at risk for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

With the hopes that they can help people work through their trauma, researchers from the University of Missouri-St. Louis are trying measure the scope of PTSD in the region, triggered by the Ferguson protests.

A U.S. military helicopter in Afghanistan arrives to assist a medical evacuation.
Octavian Adam | U.S. Navy

In October 2011, large transport planes flew three mobile MRI machines into two U.S. military bases in southern Afghanistan with a mission: find the source of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by studying the brains of soldiers in combat.

The machines were installed in military trailers, fortified from the dust and steep temperature swings of the desert outside. The delicate imaging equipment was insulated from outdoor vibrations, sound and electromagnetic rays.

Child therapist Anita Blackwell (right) attends a workshop for Emotional Emancipation Circles on December 6, 2014 at Harris Stowe University.
Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio

“My soul is grieving. Our collective soul is grieving,” Dr. Cheryl Tawede Grills said as she opened her training session for psychologists establishing therapy groups in a post-Ferguson world.  

The groups are called Emotional Emancipation Circles, or EEC’s, and they’re conducted in a specific way: create a safe space for people to talk about the racism they experience. Validate that experience. And give participants emotional tools to go forward.

Regina Greer of the United Way Coaches volunteers at the new community resource drop-in center at the Dellwood Community Center on August 21.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio

In the past two weeks, residents in Ferguson have seen familiar businesses broken into and looted, heard gunshots at night and had to drive through police checkpoints to enter their neighborhoods. Some say their trust of law enforcement has been deeply shaken since the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson.

Commentary: Searching for the enemy within

Jan 24, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 24, 2013 - In 2012, more members of the U.S. armed forces died by their own hand than were killed in combat operations. Suicide claimed 349 military lives, while 295 troops died prosecuting the attenuated mission in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta characterizes suicide within the ranks as an epidemic, and the Pentagon continues to address the problem as a top priority.

The profile of a typical decedent is a white male under 25 from the lower enlisted ranks without a college education. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

Sleep loss is threat to vets with PTSD

Sep 19, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - The greatest danger to the veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder is loss of sleep.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the successful recovery of a combat veteran after war than the ability to get adequate, good quality sleep,” says Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist.

The hidden, but destructive, injuries of war

Sep 19, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - “What is it about war that wrecks people?” Dr. Jonathan Shay says he knows the answer. When people are sent to war, they are put into mortal danger. When they get home, they remember what mortal danger on the battlefield looks like. This is the primary psychological injury veterans suffer.

Student vets grapple with feelings of suicide

Sep 18, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2012 - Student veterans are more than twice as likely to think about suicide as other college students, but they are far less likely to seek professional counseling because of cultural stoicism.

Forty-six percent of student veterans have thought of suicide, compared with 18.7 percent of students overall, according to the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2012 -On an overcast and breezy April afternoon, Bradley Thacker (not his real name), a 30-year-old freshman and psychology major at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a student veteran from Salem, Ill., is scaling the cliffs at Makanda bluffs. He's trying to forget what he saw during his tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2012 - Since 2009, more American troops have died from suicide than combat.

An active duty soldier commits suicide every 36 hours. That rate jumps for veterans – one act of suicide every 80 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control

Road to recovery began with walking a dog

Sep 17, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2012 - For nine years, Lena Mayes locked out the world. The southern Illinois veteran lived alone in her house, not talking to neighbors or family members. They were the enemy.

“I would get out of my house at midnight once a month to go to Walmart for groceries,” she recalls. “And this would only last 15 minutes. I couldn’t stand being around people.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 7, 2011 - Time has turned out to be the best therapy for many who were traumatized by the sight of jetliners crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York during a terrorist attack a decade ago, mental health experts say.

Iraq War vet celebrates progress over PTSD

Aug 15, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 15, 2008 - For Iraq War veteran Brad Seitz, the color purple symbolizes five years of life after near-death.

Purple balloons will direct guests to a party this weekend noting the fifth anniversary of the day he earned a Purple Heart in service to his country. He will hang out with family and friends at the bowling alley in the recreation center of the Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center. Refreshments will include a Purple Heart cake, compliments of the VA.