Trauma is a part of many people’s lives. An estimated 60% of men and 50% of women experience severe trauma at least once in a lifetime. A large percentage of those who experience trauma develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and women are two times more life to develop PTSD than men.1 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, describes the diagnostic criteria of post-traumatic stress disorder as:2
- The direct experience, observation, or knowledge of a one-time or repeated traumatizing event such as death, severe injury, or sexual violence
- The experience of intrusive symptoms after the event’s occurrence, such as intrusive memories, flashbacks, dreams, or physiological reactions to things that remind a person of the event
- Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma; detachment and loss of trust
- Exaggeration of negative and pessimistic thinking
- Possible memory loss around the event
- Reactions to these memories or thoughts about the event, such as sudden irritability or anger, hyper-vigilance, an exaggerated startle response, or problems sleeping
In post-traumatic stress disorder, these symptoms are not a result of substance abuse or any other physical or mental medical condition. They are the direct results of exposure to an event or series of events that he was not prepared to confront.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect both adults and children, though the symptoms might vary based on a person’s age. For example, children may have frequent nightmares that have nothing to do with the particular negative experience. Adults might suffer from specific memories of the event in dreams or flashbacks. While an adult might avoid things that remind him or her about the trauma, a child might reenact the event over in play.
PTSD can also cause depersonalization of the traumatic experience. Some describe this as an “out of body” feeling or feeling detached from reality; like the person is watching him or herself from another location. Time may seem to move at an unrealistic slowness, and the world may come to feel like a dream. These are called dissociative symptoms and may last from a few seconds to hours. These symptoms can range from sensing reminders of the trauma with only one or two senses, to believing that it is taking place again and being completely unaware of the reality that surrounds you.
Emotional reactions are not necessarily a requirement for PTSD diagnosis. Some who suffer from PTSD experience extreme emotional reactions by expressing fear, horror, and helplessness. Others suffer more from the dissociative symptoms described above, or from a debilitated cognitive state, which leads them into the trust issues and a cycle of pessimistic behavioral symptoms. Many suffer from a combination of all of these elements.
What Causes PTSD?
Some of the most common causes of PTSD are the following:
- War activity
- Physical assault
- Sexual violence
- Natural disasters
- Automobile accidents
- Witnessing an unnatural death
Traumatic events are sudden and catastrophic. For example, dealing with a life threatening illness may lead to certain anxiety disorders, but not to PTSD, as the situation does not happen suddenly. However, a traumatic experience could be related to a medical condition. While uncommon, an example of such an event could be waking up in surgery or experiencing sudden life-threatening and horrifying symptoms of a disease.
Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for PTSD. In this form of treatment, a professional will meet with you either privately or in a group setting. These sessions usually lasts for a few months, though treatment can go longer if necessary. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective therapy option for PTSD, and can help you gently face and control your fear while reducing anxiety. Other treatments include EMDR therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which many people find to be a gentle and calming approach to recovery. Exercise and body movement, combined with supportive counseling can also help with symptoms. In severe cases, some people elect to try medical treatment through antidepressants or other medicines, although this is not always necessary.
The goal of PTSD Therapy is to help you develop a balanced way of viewing the traumatic event that won’t leave you feeling guilty or having unrealistic negative beliefs about what actually happened. Enlisting a support team of family and friends in treatment is extremely valuable, so do not be afraid to include them. A consultation can help you to understand your needs and establish a treatment plan uniquely effective for you.
There Is Help for PTSD
If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek support in an environment that feels safe. If there is an ongoing event in your life that is leading to continued trauma — such as abuse — get help each right away. Call our toll-free number 24 hours a day and speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. You are not alone. Call us now.
2 American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , Fifth Edition.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders | DSM Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2017.