PTSD Awareness Month
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after experiencing a traumatic experience and affects 8% of the population, according to the National Center for PTSD. PTSD used to be discussed mostly in the context of war veterans; however, more information and awareness has been brought to light in recent years that demonstrates PTSD can happen to anyone who experiences trauma. PTSD involves an array of symptoms and every individual experience and reaction to that trauma can be different. While military combat can be one of the precipitants of PTSD, there are many traumatic experiences that can cause PTSD. These causes may include: near death experiences, violent personal assaults, sexual abuse, being held hostage, experiencing a natural disaster, terrorist attacks, witnessing death, and more.
Symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person, but can consist of:
- Reliving the traumatic event: This includes having memories of the traumatic event that can happen at any moment. When these memories or flashbacks occur, it may be as if the person is experiencing the fear and horror they did when the traumatic event took place. It’s not uncommon for certain sounds, smells, and locations to trigger the person to feel as if they are reliving the event in the here and now.
- Avoiding people/places/situations that remind one of the event: After a traumatic event, a survivor may avoid situations or people that cause them to think about the event. For example, a person may avoid crowds because they don’t feel safe or avoid driving if they were in a traumatizing car accident.
- Changes in beliefs and feelings: After experiencing a traumatic event, a survivor may notice negative changes in how they view themselves and the world they live in. One may find it difficult to feel positive feelings towards people, feel distrust, and/or isolate themselves from others. A survivor may start to look at the world differently after experiencing trauma. They may develop a belief that the world is dangerous and people cannot be trusted.
- Hyperarousal: Those with PTSD may experience hyperarousal, or feeling as if they are constantly on high alert or in danger. They may have a hard time regulating emotions and experience random bursts of irritation or anger. Hyperarousal can also cause sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, being startled by loud noises, and more.
Childhood abuse and neglect can also cause PTSD or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). C-PTSD is similar to PTSD in terms of symptoms, however, C-PTSD being more common in individuals that have experienced prolonged trauma, such as long-term childhood or relationship abuse. A 1997 study by Kaiser Permanente on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) discovered that abuse and neglect in childhood had a profound effect on later-life health and well-being, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study demonstrated that adverse childhood experiences such as emotional/physical/sexual abuse, household substance abuse, parents’ separation or divorce, neglect, or watching a mother treated violently caused a plethora of developmental risk factors and impairments and even led to early death in adolescence or adulthood.
PTSD is absolutely treatable, but the debilitating disability can become dangerous if a proper diagnosis and treatment go unacknowledged. Many survivors of trauma are often unaware of additional ways they have experienced trauma or how it presents itself in their family history. Because of the uncomfortable nature of trauma, survivors often attempt to block out their emotions and pretend they are not hurting. Below are 10 signs that play out when trauma goes unresolved, excerpted from 20 Signs of Unresolved Trauma by Kathy Broady, MSW:
- Addictive Behaviors – excessively turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, gambling as a way to push difficult emotions and upsetting trauma content further away
- An inability to tolerate intense feelings, preferring to avoid feeling by any number of ways
- An innate belief that they are bad, worthless, without value or importance
- Chronic and repeated suicidal thoughts and feelings, suicidal actions/behaviors and self-harm/self-mutilation/self-destruction
- Dissociation, spacing out, losing time, missing time, feeling like you are two completely different people (or more than two)
- Excessive sense of self-blame – taking on inappropriate responsibility as if everything is their fault, making excessive apologies
- Intrusive thoughts, upsetting visual images, flashbacks, body memories / unexplained body pain, or distressing nightmares
- Ongoing, chronic depression
- Repeatedly acting from a victim role in current day relationships or repeatedly taking on the rescuer role, even when inappropriate to do so
- Unexplained but intense fears of people, places, things
Although PTSD can feel isolating and painful, those who experience PTSD are not alone and many resources exist to treat the disorder. There are healthy and beneficial ways to cope with PTSD symptoms which include reaching out to mental health professionals trained in treating trauma and PTSD, learning about PTSD and the symptoms, muscle/breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, partaking in self-care tasks, confiding in support groups, and more. Coping and discovering what works is subjective to each person. What works for one survivor may not work for others, so it’s important to be gentle with oneself and have patience when coping with PTSD symptoms.
Reaching out for help can be incredibly difficult and even shameful or embarrassing for some survivors. It’s important for survivors to remember they are not alone, their experience does not define them, and their symptoms, as painful and uncomfortable as they may feel, are not permanent. If one needs more immediate help or feels they are at risk of hurting themselves, there are free crisis hotlines and text numbers that can be utilized 24/7. If one feels suicidal thoughts during a PTSD episode and has nowhere to turn, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can offer support and guidance to those who need help, according to Mentalhealth.net.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
If talking to a stranger over a phone line feels too difficult during an episode, there are crisis lines that one can utilize where communication is done via text.
- Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741
- Broady, K. (n.d.). 20 Signs of Unresolved Trauma. Retrieved June 18, 2018, from https://discussingdissociation.com/2009/07/04/20-signs-of-unresolved-trauma/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, June 14). Violence Prevention. Retrieved June 11, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
- MentalHelp.net. (n.d.). PTSD Hotline. Retrieved June 11, 2018, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/ptsd-hotline/
- National Center for PTSD. (2012, May 15). Symptoms of PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/basics/symptoms_of_ptsd.asp
Posted on behalf of Triune Therapy Group