Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A brief, but important departure

Taking a tangential departure on the topic of building resilience within society, my wife shared a timely article in Psychology Today that discusses the physical changes that occur within the brain following a psychological trauma.

While this blog focuses primarily on engineering, plans and policies that enhance resilience and protect the lives of victims of disasters, this article discusses new findings about ways mental health professionals may be able to help communities prepare for, and intercede following, a natural disaster.  The goal, of course, is to enhance the ability of the individual (and, thereby, society) to deal with short-term stress and avoid long-term complications that could remain if left untreated.

Nearly 90,000 people were killed and nearly 400,000 injured in the 2008 Sichuan Quake. Photo source HERE
The researchers described in the article sought answers by studying survivors of the massive and devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China.  As the article states, "their findings, while preliminary, are fascinating."  They found that post-traumatic responses caused distinct chemical changes [primarily related to N-acetylaspartate, or NAA] and physical deterioration within certain portions of the brain--both of which can be identified and treated.  The article continues:

"This research is noteworthy for a few reasons. First of all, a picture of [the post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD brain changes over time starts to come into focus.... pointing to an avenue for further research to understand how chronic mental illness unfolds over time. For example, while NAA level alone may not be a specific way to diagnose PTSD because it is common in other conditions, NAA level over time may be a way to gauge progress of care, as could measuring changes in brain volume for conditions where treatment returns the brain to a more normal state.

"The other markers are important because they may end up being helpful stepping-stones along the path to figuring out what short- and long-term trauma and stress do to the brain.... Being able to analyze metabolic activity and understand what it means is a key part of the puzzle, along with looking at changes in brain volume and activity based on blood flow. 

"All of these approaches can help inform our understanding of altered brain networks, a crucial conceptual tool for seeing the brain as a dynamic, measurable system; as a framework for molding brain activity back to a non-PTSD state (e.g. using targeted neuromodulation like transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS, and other therapeutics); and to help understand how to support and establish resilience."

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