What is PTSD and who does it affect?
June is PTSD awareness month. The diagnosis has been popularly associated with veterans inside and out of active combat, but PTSD can affect millions of people across the world each year for various reasons. Some of the reasons include witnessing a specific traumatic event (such as a natural disaster, car accident, sexual assault or abuse, or other tragic instance) or witnessing or living through a series of traumatic events (such as growing up with emotionally or physically abusive parents, repeated abuse based targeting one’s identity or any other prolonged event. One’s job may also put them at higher risk for developing PTSD. The following are a few fields where this is common:
• Medical staff- Doctors, Surgeons, Nurses, Etc.
• First responders (firefighters, EMTs, and police officers)
Symptoms of PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be considered an invisible illness. While one may have the capability of engaging in work or school, maintaining housing, and keeping up with obligations, it does not mean that they aren’t struggling. For some, it can take years after a traumatic event occurred to be able to recognize that an event was traumatic. The following are six symptoms of PTSD:
1.) Disassociation- Individuals with PTSD may have a challenging time with being in the present moment and feeling disconnected from the world around them. This can occur when one isn’t able to remember a certain period or events that occurred during this time.
2.) Hypervigilance- This is a common symptom in those with PTSD. This occurs when one is always on high alert and can present severe anxiety. One experiencing hypervigilance may feel like they always have to be on high alert as something bad may occur.
3.) Nightmares- This is different than a nightmare one may experience on any given day. Those with PTSD may experience nightmares relating to the trauma they have experienced.
4.) Flashbacks– This occurs when an individual has mental images.
5.) Mood Instability- Unresolved trauma can lead to heightened irritability and difficulties containing anger. One with PTSD may get upset over an incident that the average person might view as minuscule, however, those with PTSD have developed a trauma response to react to these situations.
6.) Guilt and Shame- Those with PTSD may experience an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame. They may think that there is something they could have done differently to prevent the situation from occurring. They may have difficulties in other situations, feeling that they are responsible for any event that goes wrong or for others’ actions.
Other symptoms of PTSD can include sleep difficulties, self-destructive behaviors, being easily frightened, and difficulties with memory
How to Support a Loved One Experiencing PTSD
It is important to remember that PTSD affects individuals differently and not every person that has PTSD experiences every symptom. Every situation is different and must be treated on an individual basis. As a loved one of someone experiencing PTSD, it is important to understand their triggers. While not every trigger can be prevented, it is important to recognize situations and ways triggers can be avoided.
In circumstances where triggers cannot be avoided, it is crucial to know how to support your loved one in these cases. Some may prefer physical touches such as a hug or their hand being held. In cases where sexual or physical abuse or trauma may have been present, this may exacerbate the symptoms and individuals may need more space. For some, exercising, walking, or engaging in an activity that brings them joy may help reduce intense feelings. It is important to recognize as a loved one that the trauma their loved one has endured is challenging to process.
There is no specific timeline for healing. For some, it may take years to be able to best deal with their trauma. It is also critical to understand that even when a person has appeared to heal from a traumatic or series of traumatic events, they can still become triggered years after the event occurred. It’s important to be patient, show empathy, and not force a timeline for healing. When supporting a loved one with PTSD, it is important to not minimize their trauma. An event that might not seem traumatic to one person can leave devastating impacts on another.
There are a variety of treatment options that can benefit those with PTSD including Prolonged Exposure therapy, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Processing Therapy. There is currently no specific medication formulated to treat PTSD specifically, however, PTSD is typically treated in combination with other mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression. If you have a loved one who has experienced a traumatic event, encouraging them to see a therapist can be one of the best ways to support them. At Clarity Clinic, we have a variety of mental health professionals that can help.