Norman Regional Health System

Lacey Heidel, BSN, RNC-OB, smiles for the camera after becoming a nurse - not long before losing a patient, which led to her being diagnosed with PTSD.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Lacey Heidel, BSN, RNC-OB, a certified labor and delivery nurse at Norman Regional Health System, was only three months into her nursing career when she faced the hardest day of her life and career when her patient died from an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE).

“That was the absolute worst day of my life,” Lacey said.

Three months after the incident, Lacey said she “spiraled downhill real quick. It all hit me at once.”

That’s when she was diagnosed with PTSD.

She received treatment, underwent therapy and got on medication – allowing her to come back to work again with “a new spirit,” she said.

Lacey is just one of many healthcare workers who suffer from PTSD due to a work-related traumatic event. According to a study at the University of Colorado, 18% of nurses meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. In comparison, PTSD in the general population of the U.S. is 6.8% among adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that happens whenever someone goes through a traumatic experience and memories get embedded into their mind, said Farhan Jawed, MD, a board certified psychiatrist and medical director of Norman Regional’s inpatient Behavioral Medicine.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

After experiencing a traumatic event, some may experience the following symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms

    • Flashbacks
    • Reoccurring memories or dreams related to the event
    • Distressing thoughts
    • Physical signs of stress
  • Avoidance symptoms

    • Staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the experience
    • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms

    • Being easily startled
    • Feeling tense, on guard or “on edge”
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Feeling irritable and having angry or aggressive outburst
    • Engaging in risky reckless or destructive behavior
  • Cognition and mood symptoms

    • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
    • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
    • Distorted thoughts about the event that cause feelings of blame
    • Ongoing negative emotions, such as fear, anger, guilt or shame
    • Loss of interest in previous activities
    • Feelings of social isolation
    • Difficulty feeling positive emotions

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have all of the following for longer than one month, and symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with aspects of one’s daily life, according to the NIMH.

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Dr. Jawed said there is also acute stress disorder, or ASD, which presents similar symptoms, but those symptoms only last for a month or less. If symptoms are prolonged, then it is diagnosed as PTSD.

What is the treatment for PTSD?

The No. 1 thing for someone who thinks they may be experiencing PTSD to do is to visit a mental health provider, either a psychiatrist or a psychologist, Dr. Jawed said. Once officially diagnosed with PTSD, multiple treatments are available.

Treatments for PTSD include:

  • Counseling
  • Psychotherapy, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy

There are different types of therapies that have been proven beneficial for those with PTSD, Dr. Jawed said. One is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is one that Lacey said was very helpful for her during her treatment.

  • Medications

The type of medication, or medications, used depend on the patient and their symptoms, Dr. Jawed said. Different medications can be used to help treat PTSD, including anxiety medications, antidepressant medications, sleep medications, and more.

“There is a lot of treatment available,” Dr. Jawed added.

The patient and their healthcare provider can work together to find the right treatment, or combination of treatments, to best help with their symptoms.

How can I get help for myself or a loved one experiencing PTSD?

There are many resources available both internally within Norman Regional Health System and externally. If you or a loved one may be experiencing PTSD, the most important first step is to seek help from a mental health provider.

Norman Regional has multiple resources for its healers, and also has its Outpatient Counseling Clinic, which offers outpatient counseling for adults 18 and older. To schedule an appointment, call the clinic at 405-912-3495.

There are also many resources outside of Norman Regional, including support groups through the NIMH. Visit https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help for additional resources.

Aside from professional help for PTSD, which is necessary, those suffering with PTSD can also help themselves by:

  • Following the treatment plan.
  • Exercising, meditating or participating in other activities to help reduce stress.
  • Trying to maintain routine for meals, exercise and sleep.
  • Setting realistic goals and doing what they can.
  • Spending time with trusted friends and family, and informing them upfront about things that may trigger symptoms.
  • Expecting symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Avoiding use of alcohol or drugs.

June is PTSD Awareness Month so even if you are not experiencing PTSD, you can help by spreading awareness – knowing and sharing that healthcare workers may experience work-related PTSD and it is important to pay attention to your symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event.

It is okay to not be okay.