There’s a common misconception about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – that it only affects military personnel.
Not true. Any experience that involves a real or perceived threat of injury or death or causes deep trauma can cause PTSD. Natural disasters, sexual violence (such as rape and child sexual abuse), intimate partner violence and military combat experience are the top four causes for PTSD in the U.S.
PTSD Awareness Month, June, is intended to show that there is help and there is hope for people experiencing this condition. During a traumatic event, the brain and nervous system switch into a hypervigilant, reactive mode. This can be referred to as fight or flight mode. In people with PTSD, the brain can remain in the fight or flight mode without shifting back into its normal state, resulting in a variety of symptoms and behaviors that interfere with everyday living.
“It’s normal to experience challenges such as upsetting memories, feeling on edge, or having trouble sleeping after a traumatic event,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “At first, you may find it hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or even spend time with loved ones without intrusive thoughts or anxiety-type symptoms. It is important to identify resources, and realize that recovery is possible. Not everyone experiences traumatic events in the same way.”
Estimates suggest that about 7-8 percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives – an estimated 8 million people in the U.S. per year.
PTSD can range from relatively mild to totally debilitating. It may disrupt your relationships, cause problems for you at work, or leave you feeling anxious, depressed, angry and isolated. You may notice triggers that increase your symptoms. The good news is that it’s treatable, and with treatment, people with PTSD symptoms can learn to cope with them and resolve some of the symptoms. If you suspect that you have PTSD, you aren’t alone.
What are the signs of PTSD?
- Mental or physical discomfort when reminded of the event
- Flashbacks, in which it feels as if the event is occurring over and over
- Frequent nightmares about the event
- Difficulty remembering the traumatic event and avoiding reminders of the experience, such as places, people and objects.
- Hyper arousal symptoms, such as feeling tense, being startled easily and having trouble sleeping. While it is normal to experience some of these symptoms after a terrible event, symptoms lasting more than a few weeks may be signs of PTSD.
- Depression, worry, intense guilt and feeling emotionally numb.
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities.
Some factors that may promote recovery after trauma include:
- Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
- Finding a support group after a traumatic event
- Developing a sense of control and taking action for what you can control along with support and even treatment.
- Having a positive coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
There are some things that make people more likely to develop PTSD — for example, having very intense or long-lasting trauma, getting hurt, or having a strong reaction to the event (like shaking, throwing up, or feeling distant from your surroundings). It’s also more common to develop PTSD after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time. Treatment can help even if the trauma happened years ago.
Many people who have PTSD also have one or other co-existing mental health challenge — like depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use disorders, or thinking about harming themselves or others. It’s also common to have problems at work, in relationships, or with physical health. Sometimes, these problems happen because of mental health symptoms. For example, feeling numb and avoiding places can make it hard to have good relationships with friends and family. Getting treatment for any mental illness, including PTSD, can help people live healthier lives. When you talk with a healthcare provider, you may ask for someone who provides PTSD assistance or provides trauma-related treatments.
While everything might seem overwhelming now, your health can improve. Need to know where to go for help? A great resource to start with is the Network of Care website. https://portal.networkofcare.