By Marc Ang
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/9/21 – One of the silver linings to the very public unfolding of Britney Spears’ conservatorship has been a decade-long journey watching a survivor, Britney Spears and the evolution of public opinion over the way they have treated her. When Britney Spears shaved her head and walked barefoot around a gas station, our society was not as kind as it is today. One can only wonder if stars like Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston were born later or there was greater empathy around the PTSD of fame, would they still be with us today?
Recently, Andie MacDowell opened up about childhood trauma to the Zoe Report. I am particularly fascinated by this story due to the fact that Andie is 63 and is speaking candidly about her emotional issues and family, specifically, with a mother who was bipolar and an alcoholic and that she still carries this trauma today.
“It’s hard to get rid of so much PTSD. It’s in your bones and it’s in your nervous system for sure” she says. But I love solutions and Andie has given many, citing her ability to channel this trauma into her acting in Netflix series “Maid’, a story about an undiagnosed woman with bipolar disorder. While acting is cathartic, not everyone has that outlet. Andie cites sound therapy, breathing techniques and exercise, such as hiking, yoga and Peloton, as ways to manage her lifelong PTSD. This is very similar to techniques I discussed with corporate wellness trainer, Nora Tobin, a few weeks back. The topic of mental health and wellness is thankfully, now a mainstream topic with much less stigma than 10 years ago.
The Hollywood Times sat down with Dr. Shauna Springer, who is currently serving as the Chief Psychologist for Stella, a trauma treatment healthcare provider and “stellate ganglion block” is the revolutionary treatment they offer. First, she believes that “wellness is a national crisis, a global crisis” and the lives of our loved ones may just depend on how we deal with mental wellness. We have clearly seen this in the last two years with the global pandemic. With the right brain scan and MRI, Shauna claims you can actually see the injury to the brain. For Shauna, the solution is a combination of treating that brain injury and talk therapy, which creates the long-lasting gains we search for.
After treating 100 veteran patients, she found that the PTSD brain is hyperactive with symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, “floods” of panic, irritability and anger, difficulty concentrating, as well as hyper vigilance (viewing the world from a threat based perspective) and jumping out of your skin when you hear loud noises. This is not just a veterans issue, but it’s affected many people.
The treatment involves an injection in the neck. Shauna herself just got the injection at one of her clinics. While she does not have PTSD, she has had trouble sleeping since the pandemic and her FitBit tracks this compromised sleep. Since the injection, however, she claims to have had the best sleep she’s ever had, and a noticed absence of dark circles under her eyes.
If we have enough stress and trauma in our life, we can get to the point where we are overloaded. COVID has increased “stealth anxiety”, Shauna says. The worry that you will get sick or infect someone, is causing high levels of stress and I certainly can confirm this anecdotally. Staying in that state long enough is dangerous.
Shauna claims that “stellate ganglion block” will bring one back to a state of calm. This injection apparently is not a new procedure and has been used for about 100 years since 1926. It is the same medication that women use during childbirth. Thousands of women take this everyday, an FDA approved anaesthetic medicine and it has now been adapted to treat chronic stress, acute stress and PTSD, which is what the Stella Center offers. In 15 minutes, one can see it work right away.
Shauna claims that she has treated 100 or so patients and tracked them the last 4 or 5 years, and the effects will not taper off. This procedure is not covered by insurance, similar to Lasik eye surgery. However, this is an out of pocket expense. At Stella facilities, it costs $3,000 with $2,000 for the first procedure and a “booster” shot for another grand, but some people don’t need that second shot.
While she says it doesn’t taper off, she does stress the importance of changing behaviors and lifestyle, such as taking a slower pace, therapy, and mindfulness to change those underlying thoughts and behaviors in order for positive effects to sustain. There is research that combining the shot and proper therapy makes magic.
A retrospective cohort study will be coming out in a few months with 327 of Stella Center patients seen between 2016 and 2019, which included a wide range of stress, such as childhood stress, child stars, combat veterans, etc. Shauna empathized with the many childhood stars that are taken advantage of by people who should care for them, like in Britney Spears’ case. It doesn’t matter when the trauma occurred, whether in childhood or a recent event, the treatment works. There was an 80 percent success rate of reduction. Shauna has seen this work with her own eyes, she says, after some initial skepticism and is confident in the clear data in this study and other future ones that will show that the gains and improvements are sustained over time. So watch out for those white papers.
Dr. Springer works with Dr. Lipov, the Chief Medical Officer, a board certified physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Management. There are about 40 centers in the country. They are working towards an FDA approval route for their specific procedure, but another route is the “off label process” route for safe and effective treatments. Physicians have some flexibility and are allowed to use their own clinical discretion to use different treatments for other therapeutic ways.
Shauna is also hoping that the “Treat PTSD Act” will pass Congress, proposed by Congressman Perry but with 22 co-sponsors from both parties that would allow this treatment to be made available to all the VAs and all veterans. When things are brought forward to help veterans, civilians will receive the benefit as the positive word gets out about the success rate. At Stella Center, 70 percent of their patients are civilian and 30 percent are veterans.
With 40 clinics all across the country, this treatment is made available to more and more average people. The initial intake is available on www.stellacenter.com and it is free. In California, there are currently two clinics in Los Angeles, one in San Diego, one in San Jose and another in Sacramento. They have now even expanded in Australia but remain a private company, experiencing their biggest growth since pandemic.
A final takeaway from my conversation with Shauna was the importance of not staying silent on mental struggles but to then take the next step to seek constructive solutions. Shauna shares these 3 tips:
Don’t be ashamed, speak out–Communicate and engage w/ groups: — across the world, 792 million people have mental health problems, and 1 in 7 will experience mental health problems in their lifetime. Seeking professional help, support groups, and communities with similar experiences is a good first step.
Engage in mental wellness activities, consider a furry friend (I know Shauna is an animal lover, since she got excited when she saw my dog Pugsley pop up on the Zoom screen): Connecting with nature, physical exercise, and creative activities such as art have been shown to have a positive impact on the mind. Headway for trauma sufferers has also been made with pet therapy and emotional support animals.
Believe relief is possible, explore treatment options: A variety of treatments besides standard medication have been written about over the past year, including the use of ketamine and MDMA, recently studied in clinical trials. Dr. Lipov has pioneered the use of the stellate ganglion block (SGB) procedure, highly effective in removing trauma from patients. One commonality between these various treatments is the effect of resetting the nervous system–showing the increased relationship between mental condition and physical states in the body, a longtime research focus for Dr. Lipov.