What is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in individuals that have experienced trauma (usually life threatening) which can include anything from violent battle to familial abuse to natural disasters. PTSD occurs in people of all ages, races, and ethnicity, though a larger percentage who suffer are 19 years of age or older. (It can even appear in animals that have experienced trauma and excessive stress.) In most cases, a person who experiences life-threatening trauma will return to their normal selves within a relatively short amount of time. However, when an individual experiences stressful side effects for longer than 1 month, they qualify as being diagnosed with PTSD. Side effects may affect an individual for an extended period of time, occasionally lasting an entire lifetime. For many, these symptoms will persist and become so severe that daily activities and daily social functioning are significantly impaired.
PTSD Symptoms & PTSD Treatments
Many veterans have PTSD symptoms but often are not sure how to identify them. They know there is something wrong but they don’t know why its happening or how to deal with it. Understanding why a person is having the symptoms is the first step. Below 3 of the PTSD symptoms veterans can experience.
Those who suffer from the disorder will display symptoms that are divided up into three categories: re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing, and arousal symptoms. Re-experiencing symptoms are characterized by the affected individual reliving the traumatic event in some manner. Usually this comes in the form of unwanted memories. These memories come unexpectedly and are sometimes triggered by events, sounds, or occurrences that are similar to the traumatic event the individual experienced. For example, a backfiring car may trigger flashbacks for a wartime veteran. The sound of screaming, whether in terror or joy, might trigger flashbacks for any number of trauma-related incidents. The list of possible triggers is endless and triggers are different for each affected person. When going through a flashback, a person may have feelings similar to those they experienced during the life-threatening event, such as fear, terror, and even helplessness.
Arousal symptoms give a name to increased emotions. People with PTSD may have higher and more frequent peaks of irritability and anger. They are constantly alert and easily startled. These symptoms often make it difficult for those suffering to fall asleep at night or stay asleep throughout the night.
Numbing and Avoidance
In order to avoid the event and the re-experiencing symptoms that go along with it, a victim of PTSD may use avoidance coping mechanisms. This usually involves avoiding locations, sights, smells, sounds, people, etc. that remind them of the event. Avoidance symptoms also include the victims distracting themselves in order to avoid thoughts related to the incident.
Numbing symptoms are very similar to avoidance symptoms. Some individuals with PTSD find it difficult to connect with or express their own feelings and instead are left feeling simply numb instead. Their interests are greatly decreased, and they may be disinterested in discussing topics they used to be conversational in. Those with numbing symptoms may believe they will not reach lifetime landmarks or that their lives will be short.
Those with PTSD symptoms often suffer from another, or even multiple, health issues, which may make it difficult to isolate and treat PTSD specifically. Health problems that are directly related to PTSD often include depression, anxiety, conduct disorders, and alcohol and substance abuse. People with PTSD also experience difficulties with divorce, abuse, unemployment, and other work- and family-related problems.
PTSD can be debilitating, but with proper treatment, individuals can work their way past the disorder and can feel healthy and secure once again. There are several treatment options available, but it’s not necessary to visit a clinic to start on the path to recovery. Several self helps will improve health in addition to professional treatment.
Professional treatment includes family therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and EMDR. In family therapy, the therapist will help guide your family to understand what you are going through and why you react to certain situations the way you do. Ideally, through family therapy, any current relationship issues will be resolved and any future ones will be prevented.
In trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist will expose you to trauma-related feelings and situations within a safe and secure environment. You will talk through your thoughts and opinions about the trauma and gradually replace any irrational thinking or misunderstandings about the event.
Medications that are prescribed to those with PTSD are generally used to treat the symptoms but will not eradicate the PTSD itself entirely. Serotonin re uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants, are prescribed by doctors the most. These will relieve sadness and anxiety.
The last method of professional treatment is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This combines the cognitive-behavioral therapy and eye movements. Theoretically, what this does is free up the brain’s processing system of information. When under extreme stress (such as when a person is suffering from PTSD), this system will be interrupted, severely compromising the brain’s ability to logically process information.
A huge part of maintaining mental health is up keeping physical health. The first step in doing this is to get moving. Exercise releases endorphin’s to the brain that will improve overall mood and reduce stress. This also helps to focus attention and thoughts on proper body movement rather than on stressful flashbacks. In addition to regular exercise, it’s important to eat a healthy diet, make time for relaxation, develop good sleep habits, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Once a person with PTSD has begun to establish healthy physical habits, he or she can then turn their attention to connecting with others and regulating their nervous system. To know which self helps will be best to start implementing, talk to your doctor or therapist.
In the Community
Statistics show that 1 in 5 veterans are suffering or have suffered from PTSD, and that number doesn’t even account for civilians who suffer from this disorder. That means that there may be veterans suffering very close to you. Perhaps you know a friend or family member who is suffering from PTSD, but you don’t know what to do next. So how can you help?
Several community groups and nonprofit organizations exist solely to help these individuals, and the biggest way a community helps is by raising awareness of the disorder. In order to help veterans and others with PTSD feel comfortable in their own environment, it’s important to understand that trauma can happen to anyone and this disorder affects many people beyond just those diagnosed. It’s also important to know what the symptoms look like and what the first steps for getting treatment are.
Programs such as the Veterans Treatment Courts have also been set up to keep veterans with PTSD out of jail and get them the help and therapy they really need to resolve the root of the problem. The Veterans Treatment Courts specifically gives veterans treatment and coping tools.
Understanding the cause and effects of PTSD is essential as a community. One of our missions here at Protect Our Troops is to show compassion and humanity. We simply want to better our communities and make things less stressful for our suffering veterans that have sacrificed a lot to protect our country.