October 10, 2008

War Veteran Addresses Ptsd

By Jessica Marcy [email protected] 981-3340

John Whitlock became a counselor motivated by his own experience with alcohol abuse as well as a divine inspiration to help others, he says.

The Vietnam War veteran discovered his niche counseling veterans and, for the past 16 years, has worked at the Roanoke Vet Center, where he said most of the former soldiers he sees have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whitlock, who served in the Marines, said the anxiety disorder often isolates people socially, destroys marriages, creates employment problems and affects family members.

Whitlock will discuss PTSD at an event Monday sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of the Roanoke Valley.

The event -- set for 7 p.m. at First Christian Church on Church Avenue Southwest in Roanoke -- is part of the Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs through Saturday.

Whitlock hopes to increase understanding about PTSD through a question and answer session.

PTSD can occur after a traumatic event such as when a person feels their life is in danger or they have no control of a situation. Symptoms can be terrifying and often include reliving an event, avoiding situations that remind a person of the event, feeling numb or feeling overly anxious and excited, according to the Web site of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The disorder can result from any type of trauma, including combat, physical abuse or natural disasters. In recent years, though, PTSD has received increased attention as many troops have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with the disorder.

Still, PTSD associated with combat has a long history and used to be called nostalgia or soldier's heart during the Civil War and shell shock in World War II.

Whitlock said it's important to treat PTSD early. He says he sees Vietnam War vets who are only now starting seek help as they reach retirement age. He hopes veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will seek help sooner because the disorder is now more in the open.

"They stand a greater chance of a more complete recovery," he said.

Whitlock says he feels fulfilled seeing people improve their quality of life and develop a zest for life through counseling.

"We're certainly not in the business we're in to get rich but to help others," Whitlock said.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

What: Counselor John Whitlock will discuss post-traumatic stress disorder as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week

Where: First Christian Church, 344 Church Ave. S.W., Roanoke

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Contact: 977-1427

Other events: Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley will host a Picnic for Parity to end discrimination against people with mental illnesses from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Wachovia Plaza as well as the MindMatters Film Festival, a series of free movies about mental health each Tuesday in October at the Grandin Theatre.

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