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Many with PTSD Not Getting Treatment


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that affects an estimated one in 11 people at some time in their lives. Some research has found that people with PTSD access treatment even less than those with other mental health conditions, such as depression. New research looks at some of the factors related to people seeking and utilizing treatment with the hope of increasing the number of people receiving treatment.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident or violence. People with PTSD continue to have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings long after the event. They may feel sadness, fear or anger or may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares.

Researchers led by Andrew Hale, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan, found that among a national sample of people meeting the criteria for PTSD in the past year, one in three had received treatment. People between 30 and 44 years old were more likely than those between 18 and 29 to receive treatment. Other factors that increased the likelihood of treatment were having at least some college education and having another mental health condition in addition to PTSD. Those with health insurance were nearly three times more likely to get treatment than people without insurance. Those least likely to receive treatment are adults 65 or older and identifying as Asian or African American.

Hale and colleagues suggest several ways to increase access to treatment for people with PTSD, including training frontline medical staff in ways to help overcome resistance to seeking treatment and better integrating mental health care with general medical care.

Various effective methods are available to help people recover from PTSD, including medication and several types of talk therapy. New technologies are also being used to help. For example, virtual reality exposure therapy is being used to help treat people with PTSD, particularly people who have experienced combat trauma. The National Center for PTSD has developed an online tool (PTSD Treatment Decision Aid: The Choice Is Yours) to help individuals and family members learn about PTSD, compare treatment options and take action.

People are often reluctant to discuss symptoms that may be stigmatizing. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies are working to address this with the use of a new technology: an automated virtual human that interviews people about their symptoms. They found that service members reported more PTSD symptoms during a conversation with a virtual human interviewer than on the official or an anonymous post-deployment health assessment.

The virtual human builds rapport through the interview beginning with general introductory questions (e.g., “Where are you from originally?”) and then asking a series of questions about symptoms such as “How easy is it for you to get a good night’s sleep?” The virtual human also uses follow-up questions such as “Can you tell me more about that?” and nods, expressions and empathetic feedback such as “I’m sorry to hear that.” The hope is that when people open up more about their symptoms they will be more likely to go forward with treatment.

See more on . PTSD symptoms and treatment.

By APA Staff


Lucas, G.M., et al. Reporting Mental Health Symptoms: Breaking Down Barriers to Care with Virtual Human Interviewers. Frontiers in Robotics and AI. October, 2017.

Hale, A.C., et al. Past-Year Treatment Utilization Among Individuals Meeting DSM-5 PTSD Criteria: Results from a Nationally Representative Sample. Psychiatric Services in Advance, 2017.


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