Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a condition in which a person relives a traumatic experience or event from the past, with triggers often causing flashbacks and memories associated with the event that can lead to depression, anxiety, or other problems. Like most mental health conditions, PTSD affects many and is not something that disappears overnight. Traumatic events are so common in the U.S. today that millions have suffered from some form of PTSD in their lives; but sufferers should know that they are not alone and that there is hope for recovery. People from all walks of life can be affected, but with proper treatment, symptoms can diminish and possibly even disappear over time. Let’s take a look at some PTSD facts.
Who is Affected by PTSD
PTSD is most commonly talked about and associated with those who have been involved in war, because the events that soldiers experience are often prolonged, intense, and consistently life-threatening. Despite the fact that soldiers have been trained for combat, the human brain responds differently to the actual experience of trauma and its aftereffects, and certain people develop PTSD as a result. However, anyone is susceptible to developing PTSD, including someone who has been the victim of an accident, an assault, a life-threatening situation, a natural disaster, or someone who has witnessed a person’s death or any of these scenarios as well. In fact, PTSD currently affects as much as ten percent of men and fourteen percent of women in the U.S., placing it on the list of the country’s most common mental health conditions.
PTSD develops when a person is unable to recover emotionally from a traumatic event, and the more trauma a person experiences, the higher the chance he or she will develop PTSD at some point. Someone who has been a victim of ongoing traumatic experiences is likely to develop PTSD, and if an injury occurs along with the event, the chances of it developing are even more likely. Children can also be affected by PTSD, especially if they have been victims of sexual abuse or other intense circumstances. Statistics today show that over half of U.S. residents have experienced some kind of traumatic event, so it makes sense for PTSD to be such a common condition. The severity of the PTSD is dependent less upon the acuteness of the trauma and more on the instances of traumatic events a person experience in his or her lifetime, especially a child; however, a family history of anxiety, mood, or depression disorders can put you at a higher risk for developing PTSD. Those who have a tendency to panic more or dissociate have a higher probability of developing PTSD as well. Aside from those factors, doctors cannot definitively determine who will or won’t experience PTSD; the best thing they can do is to treat it if it does occur and make it better before the symptoms get worse.
Ways PTSD Manifests Itself
Symptoms and signs of PTSD can be different for each sufferer, but similar to anxiety, PTSD begins with the body’s fight or flight instinct. A traumatic event can wreak emotional havoc on anyone; the difference with someone who develops PTSD is that the brain’s survival response doesn’t shut down as much or as soon as others’. As a result, when a person is reminded of the event, it sends the brain back into fight or flight and reactivates the fear, panic, or heightened awareness felt during the original event, which can turn into chronic PTSD. While it is normal for a person who has experienced trauma to have trouble sleeping, nightmares, or feel jittery for a while after the event, it cannot be considered PTSD until symptoms have been ongoing for at least a month. Sometimes, PTSD symptoms do not show up for a while after the initial event, so it is important to recognize the symptoms and attribute them to the original event.
Some of the physical and mental symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling on edge, jittery, or irritable
- Flashbacks and upsetting memories
- Disturbing thoughts
- Avoiding reminders of the event
PTSD affects children differently than adults; often, younger children will feel especially clingy with their parents, have difficulty sleeping, or act out or draw the traumatic event that they experienced. Many have nightmares or become hostile and irritable, perhaps causing trouble or avoiding certain people or situations. Some may even wet the bed or stop talking as a result of their trauma. Older children and teens tend to react more like adults do, potentially developing anxiety or depression or possibly withdrawing and avoiding reminders.
Treatments and Therapy for PTSD
While the goal of PTSD treatment differs for each individual, the focus remains the same—and that is to lessen the severity of the symptoms as much as possible, working toward alleviating them enough so that they don’t interfere with a person’s daily life. For the most part, the majority of PTSD sufferers’ symptoms will improve over time, especially if they are recognized and treated sooner rather than later. For many sufferers, treatments can help to the point of relieving the symptoms completely.
Counseling or psychotherapy and medication are the two main courses of treatment prescribed for PTSD today; both can be effective, and many doctors will prescribe a combination of the two for treatment. Several types of psychotherapy exist to help PTSD, such as trauma-focused therapy or prolonged exposure. There is no easy solution or overnight fix, but having perseverance and patience with treatment puts PTSD sufferers on the road to recovery. Before too long, symptoms and triggers will begin to lessen and the sufferer will find himself or herself able to function more easily. In the end, the sufferer will come out stronger having triumphed over PTSD and may be more able to deal with future events as a result.
Like depression and anxiety, PTSD is rough to live with and can be difficult to overcome. While sufferers cannot undo the trauma that caused PTSD in the first place, they need to know that there is always hope for a brighter future and that they do not suffer alone. A good support system can help you deal with trauma and its lasting effects, allowing you to move on with your life and keep PTSD and its symptoms from destroying your future. The sooner you receive treatment for PTSD, the better your odds of overcoming it faster and more fully. You may even be able to help others in the future who suffer and assist them in overcoming their own struggles.