Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a trauma and stressor-related disorder that affects an estimated 5 percent of Americans today. Oftentimes, PTSD is only discussed with regard to military experience and deployment. But, the truth is, PTSD can affect anyone who has been through a traumatic experience. Identifying PTSD can sometimes be tricky, so we’re here to help you spot the signs and know when to seek help for PTSD.
If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, ask for help:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If you are a veteran, press 1.
- Make an appointment with your doctor or mental health professional
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, or know someone who is in danger, call 911 immediately.
What Causes PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered by someone either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Because there is no one, set measurement for what is considered a “terrifying event”, it’s important to know that each person’s story is unique and specific to them. It’s not up to anyone else to judge what “should” or “should not” cause PTSD. In fact, doctors are not even sure why some people get PTSD over others. What experts are able to identify, though, is that PTSD is often caused by a complex mix of:
- Stressful experiences, including abuse, death, injury or sexual assault
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety or depression
- Inherited temperament, or inherited personality traits
- Chemical imbalances in how the brain regulates chemicals and hormones when stressed
People of any age can have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of developing it. This includes:
- Long-lasting trauma
- Childhood abuse, or trauma experienced earlier in life
- A job that increases exposure to traumatic events, such as military personnel or first responders
- Having anxiety or depression already
- Struggling with substance use
- Lacking a solid support system, like friends, family or reliable mental health support
Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can feel debilitating if help isn’t readily available. And, because everyone is different and because everyone’s trigger for PTSD can be different, it can be hard to set helpful mental and emotional boundaries that avoid triggers.
As a whole, PTSD symptoms can include:
Re-Experience of the Event
- Flashbacks of the event, so it feels like the event is happening over and over
- Vivid, intrusive memories of the event
- Frequent nightmares of the event
- Mental or physical discomfort when reminded of the event
- Emotional apathy (seeming to not care or be unphased by daily life events)
- Lack of interest in daily activities
- Memory loss of the actual event
- Inability to express feelings
- Avoidance of people or situations that are reminders of the event
- Difficulty concentrating
- Startling easy and having seemingly exaggerated responses to startling events
- Constantly feeling on-guard
- Bouts of anger
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Negative thoughts about yourself
- Distorted feelings of guilt, worry or blame
- Trouble remembering the event
- Decreased interest in enjoyable activities
- Racing or pounding heart
The intensity of PTSD symptoms can vary over time. What could cause a mild reaction one day could cause a very severe one the next. This unpredictability is one of the reasons why those who suffer from PTSD have trouble navigating everyday life.
Diagnosis of PTSD
There are no specific tests for PTSD however, a mental health professional is best qualified to diagnose someone. A mental health professional will look at the following signs before making a diagnosis:
- A traumatic event that someone witnessed, experienced or learned about, as well as the individual’s response to that trauma.
- How the trauma is re-experienced in someone’s daily life (nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, etc.)
- How the individual has coped with the traumatic memories
- How long the person has suffered from their symptoms
It can be challenging to diagnose PTSD, as oftentimes those who suffer from it don’t realize that they have a problem. PTSD can be extremely isolating, which makes it even more difficult to ask for help.
It’s important to know that it is okay to ask for help. Even if someone has only experienced one of the above symptoms, that’s enough to have a conversation with a mental health professional. Even if a PTSD diagnosis isn’t made, it’s important to address the negative symptoms or thought patterns that are attached to a traumatic event.
When to Seek Help for PTSD
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms of PTSD, know that you’re not alone. If you have frequent upsetting thoughts, are unable to control your actions or fear that you may hurt yourself or others, seek help right away. If you are experiencing the above symptoms, contact a mental health professional or doctor for an evaluation. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call 911 immediately.
If you are diagnosed with PTSD, you may be prescribed a combination of the following therapies:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Often called “talk therapy”, cognitive behavioral therapy encourages you to remember the traumatic event and express the feelings attached to that event. While it may seem scary to relive the event that is causing you so much emotional and mental pain, a guided, supervised revisit of the event can help desensitize you to the trauma and reduce the symptoms. It will also help you identify healthy coping mechanisms in the event you’re triggered.
- Support Groups: Support groups offer a similar benefit of talk therapy, in that it’s a controlled, healthy environment in which to revisit a past trauma. It’s important to remember that individuals in a support group aren’t mental health professionals and are on the same journey as you are. So mental health advice shouldn’t be taken from these groups. Instead, you’ll be with a group of people who understand exactly what you’re going through, which makes such an isolating disorder seem more manageable.
- Medication: Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication or sleep aids may be prescribed to help. These medications should only be prescribed by a doctor and taken as directed for your specific need. Because PTSD can often be intensified by chemical or hormonal imbalances, self-medicating or self-coping with drugs or alcohol can oftentimes make those imbalances (and as a result, the symptoms) worse.
Therapy is an incredible and productive way to begin dealing with PTSD symptoms. A licensed and trained mental health professional can help identify your specific triggers as well as manage your symptoms.
At Community Access Network, we’re here to help. Our Behavioral Health professionals can help you identify your symptoms and help you plan for strategies that will help with your PTSD.