37 posts tagged “PTSD”

Shout out to The Golden Girls: Shows and movies that “get” chronic illness

Posted January 12th, 2018 by

‘Tis the season for binge-watching — but the media often flops in its portrayal of people with health conditions. So we’ve gathered patient perspectives on Hollywood depictions of illness and who’s gotten it right (thanks, Bea Arthur).

When doctors doubted Dorothy

A writer for The Mighty who has multiple health condition recently praised The Golden Girls for it’s portrayal of main character Dorothy navigating the healthcare system with a chronic condition. Over the course of a two-part episode (called “Sick and Tired”), Dorothy (played by Bea Arthur) starts feeling constant exhaustion and hops around to different doctors who don’t believe she has a real ailment.

“Maybe I am crazy — nobody believes me,” Dorothy laments to Rose (Betty White) after multiple appointments.

“Dorothy, you are not crazy, honey, you’re sick,” Rose replies. (Thank you for being a friend, Rose.)

Ultimately, Dorothy is relieved when a specialist finally diagnoses her with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The show was ahead of it’s time in building credibility around CFS, which is just now gaining recognition as a serious longterm condition that shares many characteristics with some autoimmune conditions. Golden Girls creator Susan Harris based the episodes on her own experiences with CFS and doctors who didn’t understand the condition in the 1980s.

Other shows worthy of some applause

While no show does a perfect job, additional shows that The Mighty includes on a list of 7 TV Shows That Got Chronic Illness (Mostly) Right include:

  • The West Wing — Writers consulted with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to depict President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his relapsing-remitting MS. Some have argued the show didn’t capture all the symptoms and severity of the condition, but it raised awareness of MS.
  • Brothers & Sisters — A young character named Paige (Kerris Dorsey) is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after experiencing symptoms that real-world patients may experience, such as increased thirst and frequent urination. People with type 1 diabetes say the media often gets it wrong, so it’s refreshing that this show got it right.
  • The Good Wife — Before playing a person with Parkinson’s disease (PD) on The Michael J. Fox Show (2013-2014), Fox (who has PD in real life) played a character with a neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia on The Good Wife in 2010. The show gets props for featuring an actor with an actual health condition, playing a character who’s an aggressive attorney and not “just” a patient.
  • Grey’s Anatomy — In general, hospital-based shows are known more for their romantic plot lines than their medical accuracy. But a 2016 episode called “Falling Slowly” captured some of what it’s like to get a rare diagnosis known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a group of disorders affecting connective tissues in the body).

Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, one of its stars, Kate Walsh, who played Dr. Addison Montgomery from 2005-2012, recently opened up about being a patient in real life. Walsh revealed that she had surgery in 2015 to remove a lemon-size brain tumor, which turned out to be a non-cancerous meningioma.

“I played a real badass on TV, but when it comes to being a patient, it’s such a vulnerable experience,” Walsh said.

More and more shows and movies are also depicting mental illness — and doing a better job of it than before. For example, Stranger Things recently got good reviews for raising awareness of some aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The media’s increasing focus on mental illness — if done carefully and correctly — can be a positive thing overall, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

On PatientsLikeMe

Members have shared a lot about shows and movies portraying chronic conditions, mental illness and more.

In the Mental Health community, some members have given “thumbs up” for some TV shows, like A&E’s docuseries Obsessed and Hulu’s show Mental. “I think Obsessed is pretty good. It doesn’t seem to ridicule, exploit, or put down the patients like some shows I’ve seen on the topic. Many shows I’ve seen on OCD seem to portray the people with the disorder as sideshow attractions. I like that Obsessed keeps it on a more human level and is also focused on treatment,” one member said.

But members also recall how the media has propelled stereotypes in the past, such as the acclaimed 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest associating mental illness with violent crime. “I wish the stigma didn’t exist, but people unfortunately assume some pretty bad things based on what they have seen on tv,” a member noted, mentioning that film.

Members with ALS expressed frustration with the depiction of people diagnosed with ALS on TV shows (including ScrubsThree Rivers and Law and Order), as well as mixed reviews of the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything. But some members did like the film. “It’s a touching film that does a great job in humanizing Stephen Hawking. Although some have criticized the lack of science in the film, I think its purpose was to look more closely at his life and his relationship with his wife, Jane, which is fascinating and complex,” one member said.

Those living with MS have said that some shows (like Private Practice) have been so-so at portraying the condition — but they’re no West Wing. One member’s take? “West Wing did an excellent job of portraying ms. It showed that even the President of the US could run the country while in the middle of a relapse… it didn’t interfere with his ability to do his job.”

In your opinion, which shows and movies have done a good or bad job of portraying health conditions? Join PatientsLikeMe today to chat about what to watch (or avoid!).

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.

PTSD Nightmares: Why they’re happening and what you can do

Posted January 5th, 2018 by

More than 1,600 members of the PTSD community on have reported experiencing severe nightmares, and there are dozens of forum threads tagged with topic. So, we took a deeper dive into PTSD nightmares and some of the research-backed approaches you can try to help manage them.

PTSD nightmares

How common are nightmares after trauma?

The quick answer: Very common.

  • According to one study, 71% to 96% of people with PTSD experience nightmares. And the number is even higher for those also living with another mental health condition like panic disorder.
  • At least 50% of people with PTSD suffer from nightmares that incorporate elements or contain exact replications of a traumatic event (these are called replicative nightmares).
  • An additional 20-25% experience post-traumatic nightmares that don’t exactly replay the trauma memory, but are symbolically related to the traumatic event.

Why do PTSD nightmares happen?

Scientists have been studying dreams for years, but they still don’t fully understand how or why we dream.

Matthew Walker, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has one theory. Walker found that during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the chemistry of the brain actually changes. Levels of norepinephrine — a kind of adrenaline — drop out completely. REM sleep is the only time of day when this happens. In people not living with PTSD, REM sleep is kind of like therapy; it’s an adrenaline-free environment where the brain can process its memories while stripping away the emotional edges.

Walker’s theory suggests that in people with PTSD, REM sleep is broken. The adrenaline doesn’t go away like it’s supposed to. The brain can’t process tough memories, so it just cycles through them, again and again. This theory is being put to the test: The VA is currently running several clinical trials on prazosin, a drug that lowers sensitivity to adrenaline. Check out this page to see if there’s a trial in your area.

Treatments for PTSD nightmares

  • Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) – This approach helps people change how their nightmare ends by reimagining it while they are awake. The idea is that by changing the storyline of the dream to something not scary, your nightmare becomes less upsetting and occurs less often.
  • Prazosin – Mentioned above, prazosin is currently in clinical trials to evaluate its effectiveness for treating PTSD nightmares. In the few trials that have been conducted, results have been positive. In one 15- week study involving 67 active duty soldiers with PTSD, prazosin was found to improve trauma-related nightmares and sleep quality and reduce PTSD symptoms. See what PatientsLikeMe members have said about taking prazosin for nightmares.

Here are 5 common treatments members of the PatientsLikeMe PTSD community have tried in order to manage insomnia :

Interested in finding out more about what other people living with PTSD are trying in order to manage their condition? Join PatientsLikeMe and become part of a community of others like you.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.