Roberto Sanchez walked into our office the other day holding a three-ring binder as thick as a handwritten Bible. Adorning the black cover was a silhouette of a soldier and the words, in all caps: “COMPLEX PTSD.”
Sanchez, a 52-year-old Army veteran, had come to share with us the world of complex PTSD.
“There’s a lot of guys out there that have complex PTSD,” he said, adding it’s “way worse” than traditional PTSD, which usually stems from a single event. “It can be a bunch of small events that lead to the breakdown.”
Complex PTSD can include chronic pain, chronic suicidal ideations, neck pain, fibromyalgia, bi-polar disorder — pretty much a whole gamut of unwelcome symptoms.
I had heard of severe PTSD as well as minor PTSD, but I had not heard the term complex PTSD. I checked Sanchez’s claims with Tania Glenn, a psychologist who specializes in PTSD.
Complex PTSD stems from an ongoing series of traumatic events. For example, repeated sexual assault that last for years could result in complex PTSD, Glenn said. It can change a person’s personality, she added.
In the psychology world, however, it’s not a common diagnosis.
“Technically, complex PTSD is not a diagnosis in the DSM,” Glenn said.
In other words, it’ not in the book — “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” published by the American Psychiatric Association.
There has been talk of it being added, but as of the latest version, complex PTSD is not listed. Glenn said she’s hopeful it will be added in the future.
Sanchez, whose 16-year Army career included a deployment to Panama in 1989, said he developed PTSD while on that deployment. He was a military policeman and ran jails in Panama.
“I saw a lot of abuse,” he said.
The PTSD that began in Panama later formed into complex PTSD when he worked at prisons after leaving the Army, Sanchez said.
Nowadays, Sanchez keeps his three-ring binder handy, and preaches the dangers of complex PTSD to those who will listen, including fellow veterans at VA clinics or elsewhere.
He said veterans with any form of PTSD should be upfront with it.
“They have to tell the human resource manager,” he said. That way, it’s understood if the veteran needs to go to appointments during work hours.
PTSD wasn’t properly diagnosed until after Vietnam, and it is still an illness we are learning a lot about.
Complex PTSD should also be considered as we he help our veterans and others cope with the illness and, eventually, heal.