WHAT IS POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER?
Some people have the misfortune of witnessing or being the victims of traumatic events such as emotional or physical abuse, accidents, civil unrest, war, and natural disasters.
As you can imagine, such events can inflict profound emotional wounds that don’t always heal fully with time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that occurs in apparently healthy individuals who’ve been exposed to extreme stressors such as car accidents, sexual assault, war, unexpected deaths, etc.
In general, people with PTSD experience flashbacks, hypervigilance, panic attacks, and insomnia. On top of that, many of them are at risk of developing depression or anxiety.
But not all people who survive a traumatic event end up struggling with PTSD. Even if your immediate response to a traumatic event is extreme, it’s not a sign of mental illness. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have an intense reaction to a potentially traumatic event. The problem occurs when we can’t get past the painful memories that might follow.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder characterized by three broad categories of problems: involuntary recurrent memories of past trauma, avoidance of trauma-associated stimuli, and persistent hyperactivity and hypervigilance.
Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
People who are dealing with PTSD can experience a wide array of physiological and psychological symptoms including:
- Recurrent memories of past traumatic experiences
- Insomnia, nightmares, and night terrors
- Memory gaps
- Muscle tension
- Restlessness and vigilance
- Guilt and sadness
- Lack of focus
- Outbursts of anger
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Crushing feeling of loneliness and isolation
- An overall grim perspective on the future
If you experience PTSD symptoms for more than a few weeks, make sure to consult a licensed mental health professional. Also, keep in mind that sometimes symptoms do not manifest until six months or more after the traumatic event.
How is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treated?
Since PTSD is often accompanied by depression and anxiety, it can be quite challenging for healthcare professionals to determine the right course of treatment.
Most experts choose to approach this condition from both a pharmacological and psychological angle.
After weeks or even months of flashbacks and nightmares, people with PTSD often end up feeling ‘drained’ and powerless. To avoid a tragic outcome, psychiatrists often recommend hospitalization and drug therapy.
For people with PTSD, therapy represents a safe space where they can explore and relive a traumatic experience.
Under the careful guidance of a licensed therapist, patients can learn to overcome past trauma and rediscover the joy of living.
It’s a relatively slow process that involves gradual exposure to past traumatic events through visualization exercises.
In time, and through repeated practice, people living with PTSD manage to integrate adverse events into their experience, thus relieving the pain and suffering associated with trauma.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.