Conversation regarding designing for those with PTSD.

Presenter: Hannah Stanley
Guest: Brian Clauss
Guest Bio: Brian Clauss, executive director of the Veterans Legal Support Centre at John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, of the United States.

Segment Overview
Conversation regarding designing for those with PTSD.


Health Professional Radio

Hannah Stanley: I’m Hannah Stanley, and this is Health Professional Radio. This is Segment 2 of 3 of my chat with Brian Clauss, executive director of the Veterans Legal Support Centre at John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, of the United States.

As the name would indicate, the Veterans Legal Support Center deals specifically with veterans. When they recently moved into a new space, they took that opportunity to use the knowledge they had gathered about those suffering from PTSD symptoms, to apply it to their new design.

Brian, where was the feedback coming from aside from the attorneys? You’ve shared with me that you guys feel that you’re the only non-medical office, at least in the United States, that has been designed with the needs of these veterans in mind. There are medical offices, but are those mostly with the VA?

Brian Clauss: I don’t know the exact answer to that.  I believe anecdotally they’re mostly with the VA or people who deal with vet populations, like the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago – here in Chicago, the gold standard for brain, spinal cord type of injuries, huge, traumatic injuries.  I know that they’ve confronted these issues.

 Anybody who deals with that population has that [inaudible 01:22].  We’re the first non-medical facility in the midwest.  I don’t know about the whole country, but definitely in the midwest.  We’re a little to the south, but at least probably a quarter of the United States in the Mississippi valley, the upper midwest.  Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, things like that, for your Australian listeners.

But being an area of the country that’s a huge draw for the military, and a substantial veteran population.  But it’s something that our school really got behind and answered the call to serve our veterans, to serve our community and ultimately to serve our students as well.  Yes, I think the take away for your medical professionals is this is like designing for disabilities has been over the past 20 years.  It’s a new area of design, and you’re going to see more and more of it.

Hannah: As people are redesigning their offices or making changes and updating those spaces, this is going to be something that…having been in the space myself, you don’t realise that it was designed for this purpose.  It just feels like a very comfortable space, much like the ADA, which is the disabilities…

Brian: Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hannah: Yes, and I’m sure something is very similar in Australia.

Brian: In Australia … you can explain it briefly.  It requires accommodation in the workplace, and specific design issues like curb [inaudible 02:54], like standard sizes for doorways and hallways, things that allow disabled people…

Hannah: Access.

Brian: Yeah, access.  Grab rails in restrooms.

Hannah: Ramps, et cetera.  Yeah.

Brian: Things…accessibility.  We’ve had it for over 20 years in the United States.  We take it for granted now and this is what we feel that, in certain places, design for PTSD is just the next wave.  One of the spaces is higher ed, higher education, our universities and our graduate programs, because there’s a lot of vets coming back.

 Here in the States, they get a lot of educational benefits.  They’re going back to school like they did when they came back from World War II, when they came back from Korea, and when they came back from Vietnam.

Hannah: Yes.  I’m watching a program currently that has a very recent veteran who’s dealing with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, several different effects that are going to be short or long term, but they’re with him, and he’s back in school.  This is becoming something that’s even commonplace enough to have made it onto a program.

 But the take away is that I can express is that having been in the space, you don’t realise that it was designed for a specific demographic.  It just feels very comfortable, and what I have heard from you as the executive director, and from the designers themselves, is that the expense was really negligible, if any.

Brian: When you’re looking at finish, maybe you might be spending a little more on glass or natural light.  It’s not just for people with PTSD.  I don’t want to make it seem like it’s just for that.  It’s designed to make all the vets feel comfortable, because even if they don’t have PTSD perhaps, they’re recently back from combat, they have hyper-awareness, which is not a mental health issue.  But I think that a good word to describe hyper-awareness is you’re edgy.

Hannah: Sure.

Brian: Maybe jumpy is another word, and that lasts for a certain period of time when you come back, maybe six months, some people, a year.  Where you’re not having a mental health issue … but you’re also not able to just sit in the living room, and just be at ease when a car backfires.

Hannah: Well, New Year’s Eve fireworks, et cetera, there would be types of explosions around.  The other thing that we’ve not touched on because you are military-focused, veterans-focused, is the fact that we are seeing PTSD being diagnosed in more and more people, because the medical professionals are familiar with what it is.

People have been in car accidents, high stress environments, tragic events that have occurred.  We’ve had several in the States.  Those people who have been in and around and even witnessing some of the coverage of those high-stress events are coming forward and being diagnosed with any different levels of PTSD as well.

Brian: Well, there’s stress and there’s PTSD.  PTSD, you have to be part of the incident.  It has to occur there with you.  People who see things on TV, it stresses them out, that’s different.  That’s not PTSD.  That’s not what we’re designing for.

 We’re looking at combat-related stuff generally, or things that had…tremendous tragic military accidents, things like that, that can cause PTSD.  Or working in high-stress environments where you’re seeing lots and lots of casualties.  We’re seeing it in medical personnel.  Women are reporting PTSD at about twice the rate of men.  Looking at around 10 or 12 percent of men who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, but women who are coming back – about twice that.

That’s worrisome for a variety of reasons.  One being that up until quite recently, we had not had women in combat in great numbers.  We have women in combat who are…not just women in combat who are getting it.  There are women in all other military occupations who are being exposed to situations and experiencing PTSD.

We don’t know why yet.  There’s not a lot of long-term studies.  They’re doing it now.  We don’t know if it’s because they weren’t trained for it originally, for combat, variety of reasons.  We’re still coming to grips with that.  We’re looking at a whole new demographic that we’ve never had to look at before and that’s women.

Hannah: Now, is it a possibility, and I’m guessing it is, that the women are just more accepting of the fact that they can talk about these things, that they’re having struggles, that they don’t feel that… there’s no machismo that makes them feel like they cannot talk about this?

Brian: No.  The studies really don’t tell us anything yet.  We’re talking with physicians in your audience today, so they will all know that the brain mapping tells us, and science tells us, that women and men process stressors differently.  We know that as human beings.  We know that anecdotally.  We know that by growing up with people of the opposite sex in our lives, that we process stressors differently.

 There’s all those generalisations we can get into, but generally, men tend to compartmentalise their stressors more effectively than women, in certain respects.  Who knows if it goes back to hunter/gatherer days?  I don’t know.  The science is going to spell that out in the future; now, we don’t know.  I can’t really answer your question, other than say it’s an interesting question.  Let’s see what the science says in 10 years.

Hannah: Okay.  We’re about ten years out, and we are seeing it not just in the United States, but this is globally.  Women are being allowed more and more into these combat situations or being closer to those lines.

 I want to touch on – we’re about to wrap up this segment, but I want to take a few extra minutes and talk about something you mentioned in the first segment, that the Vietnam veterans – they’re starting to struggle with their PTSD.

This is the end of Segment 2.  We’re about to start Segment 3.  Please stay tuned.

I’m Hannah Stanley.  This has been Segment 2 of 3 with Brian Clauss, the executive director of the John Marshall Law School’s Veterans Legal Support Center in Chicago, Illinois of the United States.  We’ve been talking about PTSD in design.

In our next segment, Segment 3, we’ll be talking about specifically the effect that PTSD is having on some of the older veterans from different conflicts, and how that’s starting to come to the surface.  Please stay tuned.  Hannah Stanley, Health Professional Radio.

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