Thursday, April 27, 2017

PTSD on Campus and Beyond – Interview

In addition to researching and summarizing different articles, the Biology Society thought it would be beneficial for our readers to hear information about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from an expert on campus. Below is an account of our chat with Judith W. Preston at the Spartan Health Center. She is a licensed professional counselor. Alexandra Boone asked the questions. She is a junior at Norfolk State University (NSU) and the Mentorship/Development Chair of the NSU Biology Society.

Alexandra Boone: What is PTSD? Are there different types?
Preston: PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are not exactly different types but the severity of PTSD in patients does vary.

Alexandra Boone: Who is usually affected by this condition?
Preston: Individuals that see, hear, or experience a traumatic event. Examples include: hearing a gun shot, a child experiencing domestic violence in the home, sexual trauma, domestic violence, being in a bad car accident.

Alexandra Boone: What are the symptoms? And treatments?
Preston: Reliving the experience over and over again. PTSD patients may experience flash backs and nightmares. PTSD patients often have triggers and avoid certain activities that led to the traumatic event. Example: Staying at home due to living through a natural disaster. Having negative thoughts about yourself and blaming yourself for the traumatic event occurring. Difficulty sleeping, concentrating, being aggressive due to always being on edge. With kids, they may regress in social or personal development. Example: returning to bed bedwetting or withdrawing from social activities. PTSD can also lead to substance abuse because the patient is trying to either forget, escape, or feel better about the situation.
Treatment: First, patients need to be assessed by a professional such as a psychiatrist, licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, or primary care physician. Psychotherapy is used as treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on the connection between a patient’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors. EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, is a therapy that primarily treats trauma through reprocessing the trauma in a safe setting. Medication is also often used to treat PTSD.

Alexandra Boone: How does one know when they are officially cured or is that not possible for this condition?
Preston:  The reduction of symptoms will determine when exactly the patient is better, but it can resurface if triggered.

Alexandra Boone: Are there any disparities among minorities or other specific groups as far as awareness and/or seeking help?
Preston: Yes, the stigma of mental health is a big disparity. Minorities may also not seek mental health services because of bad experiences, family may not believe in therapy and may prefer to turn to their church for support, lack of immediate access or not having health insurance.

Alexandra Boone: Working here at the NSU counseling center are there many cases? How do you think PTSD affects us specifically? What are the ways we can get help and what can the counseling center do for us?
Preston: Yes, there are all types of mental health cases on NSU’s campus ranging from PTSD to depression, and anxiety. Students may struggle with continuing issues from before attending NSU and during their time here. PTSD affects NSU students same as it would affect many other college students. PTSD affects students if they experience traumatic events that could happen on campus such as hearing gun shots, watching someone get robbed or beaten, or even something more personal that they were dealing with before they came to NSU. The Counseling Center offers free mental health services to NSU students. It is located in Room 312 in the Student Services Building. Information shared is confidential and your concerns/problems are taken seriously. There is no shame in seeking help when it’s needed.

Alexandra Boone: Well on behalf of the Biology Society Thank you so much for providing us with this information.
Preston: No problem. If you need anything else do not hesitate to ask.

END OF INTERVIEW – Behold Biology NSU!

How the Body and Brain Respond to PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD occurs by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time, but some individuals may develop PTSD.

PTSD patients have stress reactions that do not go away or may even get worse over time. They often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged.  The symptoms can be severe enough and can last long enough to impair the person’s daily life significantly. So, what happens inside of the body to cause PTSD?

Normally, during a traumatic event, the body responds to the threat by going into “flight or fight” mode. It releases stress hormones, like adrenaline and norepinephrine, to provide a burst of energy. After the trauma passes, in most people the body returns to “normal” mode. However, in people suffering from PTSD the brain is stuck in danger mode. So, why do some people develop PTSD while others don’t?

Neuroimaging studies on the brains of PTSD patients show that several regions differ structurally and functionally from those of healthy individuals. The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that play a role in triggering the typical symptoms of PTSD are regions that impact the stress response mechanism in humans. The PTSD victim, even long after his or her experiences, continues to perceive a threat and respond to stress.

The most significant neurological impact of trauma is mediated by the hippocampus. PTSD patients show a considerable reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. This region of the brain is responsible for memory functions. It helps an individual to record new memories and retrieve them later in response to specific and relevant environmental stimuli. The hippocampus also helps us distinguish between past and present memories.

PTSD patients with reduced hippocampal volumes lose the ability to discriminate between past and present experiences or interpret environmental contexts correctly. Their particular neural mechanisms trigger extreme stress responses when confronted with environmental situations that only remotely resemble something from their traumatic past. PTSD treatments help patients move on.

To learn more, move on to our next blog – and Behold Biology NSU!


1.       ”Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
2.       "The Science Behind PTSD Symptoms: How Trauma Changes the Brain" World of Psychology. N.p., 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
3.       "The Anatomy of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 29 Jan. 2009. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
4.       Art by Anthony J. Silver.

Author: Takeya J. Best 
Edited by: Aylin Marz, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Biological and Health Costs of Racism

In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at how racism can have an effect on both physical and psychological health. How big of an influence could racism and violence play on our physical and mental health and what do we do about it? The emotional weight African Americans carry can have short-term effects and long-term ones as well. With the recent and continuous reports of shootings and killings of unarmed men and women, the scenes can be quite traumatic to anyone, but what’s most unbearable is when those same unarmed men and women look like you or a family member.
Research shows that EVERY minority group experiences some degree of discrimination. People of color are afraid to bring up issues of racism and its effects on their physical health. They are also reluctant to discuss the issue with their mental health care provider because they are so used to being invalidated by people who do not experience racism. The response to racism can have a negative effect on their physiological and psychological behavior resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. PTSD was often thought of as the effect of a single traumatic event but now it can be a cause of an accumulation of traumatization.
There have been connections to depression among people who have not personally experienced racism but rather watched it on the news or read about it. According to associate professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, Dr. Monnica Williams, this may cause illness as well. Symptoms to look for are anxiety, deep frustration, impaired judgment and an inability to do daily routines.
Destigmatized communities have negative physical outcomes overall. Within the black community the majority of health issues that tend to be hereditary are diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks. An article from Chris Weller suggests societal racism in this day and age can lead to anger and an increase in behavior problems in teens and that racism is “an important influencing factor in kids’ developing sense of self-worth.”
Racial discrimination anywhere, not only in the United States, is harming and should be frowned upon. How do people sometimes cope with racism? Cogburn suggests positive coping strategies; the challenging approach is to ask yourself, “What can I do to change the way people see me or my group?” Avoid taking negative approaches like feeling bad about yourself, being in denial, or wanting to assimilate to what one may think is “normal.” Whether it is good or bad, stereotypes can have negative consequences as well with the constant urge to be accepted.
According to Science Friday there is a virtual reality technology that allows people to experience racism, to give people who don’t normally encounter these experiences a chance to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” The reality of it all is clear; racism is alive and well, however there are people in this world who have NEVER experienced it. So how can they fully understand or sympathize with someone who is experiencing this every single day? As Black History Month continues, I will end on this quote, “Be the change you want to see in this world.” Seek help if need be and continue to think positive and do positive even after this month has passed. So go learn, and Behold Biology NSU!

1.       The Health Costs of Racism. Cogburn C, Intagliata C, Wetsman N, and Williams M. Science Friday, PRI (Public Radio International). Media.  July 15, 2016  

2.       Racism and Mental Health: the African American experience. Morris WR, Williams RD. Ethnicity and Health. 2000; 5(3/4): 243-268

3.       Racism Linked to Depression, Anxiety in Kids; Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians at Highest Risk. Weller C.  Medical Daily; Healthy Living. September 23, 2013.

Author: Ronquelda C. Quillen