People frequently associate PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with specific groups of people. Soldiers serving in times of war, police officers, first responders, and others who face difficult and potentially deadly situations as part of their employment requirements are generally those people who come to mind when we think of the signs of PTSD. But PTSD can happen to anyone, and there are many examples of trauma that may lead to PTSD development. During any given year, approximately 15 million American adults experience PTSD.
What is PTSD?
PTSD has long been associated with soldiers and military veterans, so much so that it was once referred to as “shell shock.” But PTSD can happen to anyone, at any age. Some statistics suggest one out of every eleven people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops in those who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. While trauma often leads to fear and other symptoms in most cases, someone with PTSD will experience symptoms related to the event long after the trauma has resolved. Without treatment at a mental health program specializing in PTSD, the impacts of trauma can cause long-lasting harm.
What are the signs of PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association states PTSD symptoms fall into four categories; intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. Depending on the individual and their specific trauma, the severity of their symptoms may vary widely.
Intrusion symptoms are symptoms such as repeated intrusive thoughts, painful memories, upsetting dreams, or flashbacks. For some, their dreams or flashbacks are so vivid that it feels as though they are re-living the event in real-time. Avoidance symptoms involve actively avoiding reminders of the trauma. For example, someone with PTSD may go out of their way to avoid places, people, situations, conversations, or objects that may cause painful or triggering memories.
PTSD can also lead to alterations in how the brain functions. These changes affect mood, cognition, arousal, and reactivity. Experiencing trauma, whether directly or indirectly, causes painful memories. Sometimes, changes in how the brain processes thoughts and memories lead to remembering certain aspects of the trauma. It can also cause potential harmful and distorted beliefs about oneself and others.
Distorted thoughts can have harmful consequences such as self-blame and ongoing emotional symptoms like guilt, shame, fear, detachment, loss of interest in activities or hobbies, and the inability to experience positive emotions. Additionally, trauma may lead to increased negative emotions and outbursts, increased risk-taking behavior, and difficulty focusing or sleeping.
What can cause PTSD?
PTSD is rooted in trauma. However, what trauma looks like is different from person to person. It is not necessary to directly experience or witness trauma to develop PTSD. Some people, especially youth and teens, develop post-traumatic stress disorder after learning about a traumatic event that happened to a friend or loved one. Several examples of events or situations may cause trauma, such as severe injury or illness, terrorism, assault, abuse, natural disasters, death of a friend or loved one, witnessing violence, and engaging in military combat.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences or witnesses trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Some data suggests one in three people who experience severe trauma will develop PTSD, but statistics vary. There are certain individual factors that may increase one’s risk for developing PTSD, including further trauma after the event, limited (or no) support from loved ones after the event, and a history of other mental health conditions such as depression or panic disorders.
How to Treat PTSD
While the symptoms and severity of PTSD symptoms vary from person to person, the most effective treatment, the first step in treating PTSD, is choosing a treatment program like Relevance Recovery, where providers understand the unique and wide-ranging recovery challenges associated with PTSD.
Several treatment models are used to help manage and overcome PTSD, including talk therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes. Three psychotherapy or talk therapy interventions are widely used in PTSD treatment; cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Because each treatment addresses PTSD symptoms differently, it is important to work closely with your mental health provider to choose the treatment that is best for you. In some situations, antianxiety medications might be used to help reduce the intensity of certain symptoms during treatment.
If you or a loved one struggles with PTSD, seeking help to understand your symptoms can help. Without treatment, PTSD can have a significant impact on your physical and emotional health as well as your personal and social relationships. Everyone seeking help with PTSD has unique needs, and what works for one person, may not work for everyone. Let the team at Relevance Recovery help you begin your journey towards overcoming PTSD. Contact us today to learn more.