Jack was just an ordinary 18-year-old kid until that fateful night. He was into sports, had lots of friends and was looking forward to attending college in the fall.
But in an instant, everything changed.
On his way home from a house party one night, Jack witnessed a drive-by shooting. He did not know the victim, but immediately rushed to his side to help.
With adrenaline flowing through his body, Jack dialed 911 and began CPR. When the EMT team arrived, he stood back to watch the events unfold. He was questioned by the police and then escorted home.
At first, Jack was shaken, but was able to talk to his mother and was able to move forward with work and school. Over the following weeks, though, Jack began to experience nightmares and was unable to walk alone on the streets of his neighborhood.
When he tried to walk to school, he would experience panic, shortness of breath and flashbacks that would force him to turn around and go home. Jack began to isolate himself from friends and family and was unable to focus on his job and schoolwork.
He began to drink heavily on a daily basis just so he could sleep.
Eventually, Jack knew he needed help and found his way to a clinician at Family Centers.
As with Jack's experience, the recent shootings at the Wisconsin Sikh temple and Colorado movie theater have caused many Americans to rethink their sense of safety.
When tragedy strikes so close to home, our view of the world can change quickly and drastically.
As we watched the media coverage unfurl around these tragedies, it was clear that the victims' worlds had been turned upside down, and they no longer felt a sense of safety.
This sense of the world being turned upside down can be labeled as "post traumatic stress."
Even though the traumatic event is over, many of the victims continued to experience strong reactions physically, emotionally and mentally.
Depending on the severity of the incident, the post-traumatic stress reactions may last anywhere from a few days to several months.
At times, the event or loss can produce such intense reactions that the victim may need assistance from a doctor or mental health provider to regain a sense of security and well-being.
Many people who have a strong support system of family and friends to help them through find that these symptoms subside with time. But sometimes that's not enough.
If the symptoms persist, mental health professionals may give the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.
This is a more severe reaction to witnessing or hearing about violent acts or death, threat to physical integrity, serious harm or threat of death or injury.
People who experience trauma who have a history of depression or anxiety may have an increased vulnerability to developing PTSD.
PTSD is different from post-traumatic stress reaction in that individuals with PTSD will experience recurrent and persistent dreams or recollections of the traumatic event. They will also avoid any situations or emotions that remind them of the event.
The victim may have may difficulty dealing with previously manageable situations, their temper may flair, they may have difficulty concentrating and they may have an exaggerated startle response.
Much research has been done on treatment of PTSD, and mental health providers agree that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication to reduce depression and anxiety are the best course of treatment for someone suffering from PTSD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a way for professionals to understand how the sufferer thinks about the trauma and the after-affects.
The therapist is then able to help the person to identify those thoughts that are causing anxiety and stress and help the victim replace them with thoughts that support survival, health and recovery.
The good news is that recovery is a reality. Today, Jack is back in school and managing well.
He no longer uses alcohol to cope, and instead relies on the support of family members and friends.
If you or someone who love is showing signs of PTSD, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.
Katey Smith is the coordinator of Family Centers' Reconnecting Families Program. She is also the coordinator of Family Centers' Trauma Response services. Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Westchester County, N.Y., Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.