Anyone can have stress reactions after traumatic events like violence, war or combat, natural disaster, or assault. If these reactions don’t go away with time and interfere with your daily activities, you may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
About 8 million Americans all over the United States are affected with PTSD, and 37% of are diagnosed with severe symptoms of PTSD.
What can cause PTSD?
Any traumatic or life-threatening event can cause PTSD. Some of the events include:
- Combat and other military experiences
- Assault, physical or sexual are both traumatic and may cause PTSD.
- Learning about accidental death or injury of a loved one
- Child sexual or physical abuse
- Tragic accidents like a car wreck, etc.
- Natural disasters
- Terrorist attacks
You may not have control over what’s happening during these events, and you may feel a great deal of anxiety and fear, which can lead to the development of PTSD.
Traumatic events that lead to PTSD can happen to you or might be witnessed while happening to someone else. Effects of seeing horrible or violent circumstances can also be traumatic, for example, being a first responder after a terrorist attack or accident.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD symptoms have four types, which may not be precisely the same for everyone. Common symptoms of PTSD fall into these broad categories:
Flashbacks of traumatic events can come up anytime. They can feel terrifying like the situation is happening again. Much like flashbacks, nightmares can also occur anytime and may cause sleep disorders.
There are many reasons why memories of trauma keep coming back. These reminders of the event are called triggers. Triggers could be news that is similar to the traumatic situation or sensory experiences that are similar like hearing gunfire for a combat veteran.
Inevitably through daily life, people will experience things that connect to a traumatic event. Because of that, you may try to avoid situations or certain people that remind you of the trauma. For example, a combat veteran may avoid crowded places like malls or the subway as it feels dangerous to be around a huge crowd. A person who was assaulted by someone who was drinking may avoid social gatherings that involve alcohol.
Another form of avoidance is staying constantly busy. This way, you don’t have time to think or talk about the event.
Mood and Cognitive Symptoms
Negative emotions may occur more frequently than before the trauma. Traumatized people may feel sad, irritable or numb and lose interest in stuff they previously enjoyed, like spending time with friends. They may feel distrustful of others and find it hard to express happiness and positivity, and the world may seem like a dangerous place. Feelings of guilt or shame over not being able to do something during a traumatic event are other examples.
Feeling on Edge
People who have PTSD may feel restless or jittery. This is called hyperarousal and insomnia or difficulty in concentrating may also be present. The feeling of always being on the lookout for danger is constant, making it hard to control emotions of anger and irritability. Sudden noises or surprises may cause people with PTSD to startle easily.
Children with PTSD
Children may also develop PTSD; however, their symptoms are different from adults. Since young children cannot articulate their thoughts and emotions, symptoms manifest as sudden changes in behavior or a decline of developmental achievements. For example, a child may suddenly start bed-wetting again or slip back to not being toilet trained.
It is vital for a child to be assessed by a professional trained for developmental responses to stressful events. Visiting a pediatrician or a provider for child mental health is a good start.
How to know if you have PTSD
PTSD Symptoms may start to appear within three months after a traumatic event. For diagnosis, the symptoms must last longer than a month. The best method for determining if you have PTSD is to talk with a mental healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider might ask questions about your trauma, symptoms, and other problems that you’re experiencing.
A person with PTSD may develop additional disorders as well as thoughts or attempts of suicide. Some of these disorders are:
- Anxiety Disorders (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Substance Abuse
These conditions may be challenging when treating PTSD. Medications used to address these disorders may worsen symptoms of PTSD. However, successful PTSD treatments usually improve these related conditions and successful treatment of depression, substance abuse, or anxiety may also improve PTSD symptoms.
You don’t have to carry the burden of PTSD on your own. There are many ways to treat and manage PTSD that can help you regain a sense of control and better engage in your life again.
One way to manage PTSD is through psychotherapy or group therapy can be of great help. Such as, cognitive processing therapy or CPT, prolonged exposure, and EMDR.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) a talk therapy which helps you find new ways to recognize cognitive patterns of thinking that keep you stuck; such as thoughts about your trauma and anxiety about how to keep you and other people around you safe. Its main goal is to change your thinking pattern or thinking behavior that is behind your difficulties, thus improving the way you feel.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is another type of cognitive behavioral therapy that can assist you in reengaging with life. By doing so, you can gradually learn how to identify safety from danger thus, diminishing your PTSD symptoms.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an effective and unique form of psychotherapy treatment for PTSD. It is an inactive technique used to relieve psychological stress. Unlike other psychotherapy that focuses on the more disturbing emotions and symptoms from the event, EMDR therapy focuses less on the traumatic event. To learn more, Sunshine has licensed EMDR therapists that can walk you through this type of treatment.
Other Therapies: Medication may be prescribed by your healthcare provider or they may teach you self-management strategies like self-soothing and mindfulness that can help you manage panic attacks and flashbacks. Service animals like dogs or working with horses can help soothe the symptoms of PTSD.
If you feel like you may have PTSD and would like to discuss your concerns please call our behavioral health department at (907) 733-9262.