There is a common misconception that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exclusively affects soldiers who have experienced warfare. This is not the case. PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced an extremely traumatic event of any kind, whether it’s a near-death experience or sexual assault. It’s important to have PTSD officially diagnosed by a mental health professional as depression, mood swings and severe anxiety aren’t always caused by PTSD and may not be indicative of PTSD.
Signs of PTSD
PTSD is officially defined as a mental health condition that people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault. While it’s normal to have upsetting memories, anxiety and trouble sleeping, people with PTSD can experience these issues for months or years after a traumatic event.
People may experience a variety of symptoms when they have PTSD. Some more common symptoms include.
- Reliving the event – A person continuously relives bad memories or has nightmares, to the point the person feels like they’re experiencing it all over again. These instances are often called flashbacks.
- Avoiding situations – People with PTSD will go out of their way to avoid people, events or places that may trigger memories of a past traumatic event, affecting their quality of life and how they interact with the greater, outside world.
- Experiencing more negative beliefs and feeling guilty – Negative feelings of guilt, shame and anger can originate from a traumatic experience, causing feelings of distrust or the opposite – numbness toward feelings.
- Trapped in a state of hyperarousal – Some people with PTSD experience prolonged bouts of jitteriness, paranoia and a constant state of high alert. This may result in insomnia, trouble concentrating on tasks and sudden feelings of anger or irritability. Some people in this state turn to unsustainable coping mechanisms for relief (excessive smoking, drinking or using drugs).
Treatment for PTSD exists and commonly involves psychotherapy.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is one of the most effective PTSD treatment methods and is available in different forms.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – A regimen that helps the patient understand how trauma changes thoughts and feelings and how to change the way one thinks about their trauma. Treatment includes openly discussing with your therapist the trauma experience with other expressive exercises such as writing. Toward the end of therapy the therapist will focus on areas of life that have been severely affected by trauma and will help rebuild a sense of safety, trust, control and self-esteem.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE) – PE memory therapy requires repeated discussion of the traumatic event until memories are no longer upsetting. By facing the root event the patient is better able to control their thoughts and feelings. Treatment includes interacting with triggers – such as places, people or things – in a safe, controlled, therapeutic environment.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – This treatment involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while talking about the trauma experienced. The therapist will ask the patient to recall the disturbing event affecting them, while asking them to keep their eyes trained on the therapist’s hand movements. EMDR is also useful for treating panic attacks, eating disorders and addiction.
There are medications that can help those experiencing PTSD. Different therapies work for each person, so be sure to discuss your options with your doctor.
Recovery is Possible
At Alive and Well, we realize the impact that PTSD has on both mental and physical health. Help is available in our community.
Contact Alive and Well STL or visit our website and click “get well,” to find the resources you need.