June is PTSD Awareness Month, so while PTSD impacts people all year long, this month is an appropriate time to learn about a common mental health problem. PTSD affects people from all walks of life and can cause major problems in a person’s happiness, quality of life, and mental functioning. Anyone can develop PTSD and there’s nothing wrong with showing signs of this condition. Learn more about PTSD, including who can be affected, common symptoms, and promising treatments.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a mental health condition that affects people who’ve undergone a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, combat experiences, violent altercation, or sexual assault. PTSD develops when the trauma survivor struggles to mentally absorb or integrate what happened to them.
Some people show signs of PTSD starting immediately after living through their traumatic experiences. Other survivors don’t show symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after the event. This can be because the person is repressing or avoiding the issue, or symptoms may not be triggered until later in life.
Who Suffers From PTSD?
Anyone who undergoes a traumatic event can develop PTSD. There’s nothing faulty with PTSD survivors and nothing special about people who go through trauma without developing symptoms. However, some traumatic events are more likely to lead to PTSD than others.
Trauma survivors are more likely to develop PTSD if:
- They are exposed to continued stress after the event
- They don’t receive social support
- The traumatic event is long-lasting, repetitive, or very intense
- They have experienced a similar event earlier in their lives
Some kinds of trauma seem more likely to lead to PTSD. For example, combat veterans and sexual assault survivors are both especially likely to develop PTSD. However, any traumatic event can lead to this disorder. If two people live through the same event, one may develop the disorder and the other may not. Personality traits, age, gender, brain chemistry, and metabolism rates may be involved.
What Are Signs Of PTSD?
It’s normal to feel weird, off, or out of balance after a traumatic event. These symptoms are more likely to develop into PTSD if they continue over a long time, such as months after the event.
Common PTSD signs in adults include:
- Reliving the event through nightmares or flashbacks
- Avoiding reminders of the event, such as crowds, fireworks, or driving
- Experiencing more negative or unpleasant thoughts and feelings than you did before the event
- Feeling on edge, including having a hard time sleeping, feeling jittery, or being easily startled
Children and teens have different symptoms based on their age and development.
- Ages 0-6 become very attached to their caregivers, sleep poorly, and re-enact the event while playing.
- Ages 7-11 also re-enact the event during play, as well as have nightmares, show personality changes, and have trouble with school and social events.
- Ages 12-16 react similar to adults and may also engage in risk-taking behaviors or run away.
How Can PTSD Be Treated?
Today, a range of treatments is available for people living with PTSD. Reach out to a doctor or mental health professional if you’re struggling with your past events. Treatment can help some people gain complete relief from their symptoms. Other people still deal with PTSD symptoms but find that their reactions become weaker and easier to handle.
Both psychotherapy and medication are available for PTSD patients. Psychotherapy can include different methods such as:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which involves learning about how the trauma impacted your brain and emotions.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE), where patients talk about their trauma until the memories become less upsetting. Patients might also be exposed to trigger thoughts, places, or actions that are safe but tend to bring up the trauma.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), where patients talk about their trauma while focusing on sounds or hand movements, allowing your brain to work through the trauma in a new way.
Medication options typically include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), as well as some experimental programs. Treatment plans often involve both psychotherapy and medication.
PTSD is hard to live with, but there is hope. Be aware of people in your life who may be struggling with PTSD. Social support and understanding are vital to recovery, so this month’s awareness building can improve lives.
Do you want to take greater control of your health and healthcare journey? Download our free guide – 7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Facing a Serious Healthcare Problem – to learn more.