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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

New Research Points To Window Of Opportunity To Prevent PTSD

Associated Press

Dr. Shaili Jain is a psychiatrist and post-traumatic stress disorder specialist at one of America’s top hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She joins Krys Boyd, host of KERA's Think, to talk about how the condition affects many aspects of sufferers’ lives – and about cutting-edge research that’s providing hope.

Her new book is called “The Unspeakable Mind: Stories of Trauma and Healing from the Frontlines of PTSD Science.”

Jain says the trauma that leads to someone developing PTSD typically stems from a life-threatening event.

"The person who experiences them, at some point, they think their life is going to end," Jain says. "That is kind of the hallmark feature of the traumas of PTSD. The obvious image that comes to mind is the soldier back from war, but obviously PTSD can result after many traumas."

Jain says there is promising new research around the concept of the "golden hours," a window of time after a trauma occurs during which medical professionals may be able to stop the onset of PTSD through various therapies.

"We don't actually know how long this period is ... but there is definitely this opportunity between exposure to trauma and the onset of actual PTSD, an opportunity for medical intervention, to reset the brain on a pathway towards recovery," she says.

Jain lists domestic violence, being mugged, becoming a refugee and surviving a natural disaster as potential traumas that may lead to PTSD. Still, she says, not every such experience will lead to someone developing the disorder. Jain says it's normal to feel jumpy, on-edge, to have nightmares and to relive the trauma in its immediate aftermath. Those symptoms don't necessarily mean you have PTSD.

"What we typically say is if you're still having those symptoms after about four weeks, and they're not getting any better," Jain says, "then we start to wonder, 'has this become PTSD and does it require more active intervention and evaluation?'"

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.