The VA estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes, with post-traumatic stress disorder believed to be a major precipitating factor of suicide. A December, 2012 public health study indicates that nearly 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at VA hospitals have been diagnosed with PTSD—and that number only reflects those who seek treatment. And while the VA has made considerable improvements in veterans’ overall care in the past few years, PTSD diagnosis and treatment still remains a challenge.
One of the more pioneering efforts to assist veterans and Active Duty personnel experiencing symptoms of PTSD is the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth & Technology’s “PTSD Coach”.
PTSD Coach is a mobile application that features cognitive behavioral techniques to encourage self-management of PTSD symptoms. The app provides information on PTSD and treatments; tools for screening and tracking symptoms; simple skills to help handle stress symptoms, and direct links to support.
The National Center for Telehealth & Technology’s site lists PTSD Coach’s key features:
- Self-Assessment: Self-assessment of PTSD symptoms with individualized feedback, and ability to track changes in symptoms over time. The assessment does not formally diagnose PTSD.
- Manage Symptoms: Coping skills and assistance for common kinds of post-traumatic stress symptoms and problems, including systematic relaxation and self-help techniques.
- Find Support: Assistance in finding immediate support. The app enables individuals to identify personal sources of emotional support, populate the phone with those phone numbers, and link to treatment programs. And in an emergency, users can quickly link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
- Learn about PTSD: Education about key topics related to trauma, PTSD, and treatment.
PTSD Coach has been downloaded over 100,000 times in 74 countries around the world and won the 2012 American Telemedicine Association’s President’s Award – Innovation. The app provides information and support for a disorder than can be frequently socially stigmatized and associated with feelings of shame or guilt. It provides a private and anonymous way to seek support, but is meant to be used in tandem with professional medical treatment.
Research with Veterans with PTSD found that 88% were moderately to extremely satisfied with the app, and more than three-quarters found the app helped them find ways to manage symptoms, feel more comfortable seeking support, feel they can do something about their symptoms, increase understanding of their symptoms, and enhance knowledge of PTSD.
PTSD Coach recently launched a website version of the app, PTSD Coach Online, which has similar tools to the app, and also helps look at “big picture” issues, like understanding values and goals or problem solving. The online version is also able to offer tools that involve writing, due to its computer-based format.
PTSD Coach App can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play.