PTSD & The Support Available
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a common condition that can affect virtually anyone irrespective of age or gender. PTSD can occur after a single traumatic event but is often the result of cumulative trauma – including emotional abuse, poverty, and other toxic stressors. An individual may be bombarded with repeated traumatic experiences, many that remain unacknowledged or recognized. These traumas can affect how individuals come to view and react to situations. PTSD is an adverse consequence of these experiences. Learning about PTSD can help you to not only identify the condition, but also manage it successfully.
To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by the University of New England’s Online MSW program.
An Overview of PTSD
Broadly speaking, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be triggered by a single or multiple traumatic events. Many times these traumatic events are experienced as being potentially life threatening, even if they may not cause actual physical harm to the victim. Depending on a person’s life circumstances including any other stressors they may have been experiencing prior to the traumatic event can affect their ability to cope. In the US, at least 90% of the population has experienced a traumatic event at some point in their lives. The average age of PTSD onset is 23 years. In addition, 3.5% of American adults have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder in the last one year. It is worth noting that PTSD triggers vary widely. Examples of triggers include exposure to war zone activities including combat violence, childhood trauma, witnessing assault on others, accidents or disasters that cause injuries or fatalities, witnessing death, physical assault and sexual abuse, among others.
PTSD Symptoms and Risk Factors
It is common for people with PTSD tend to re-live traumatic event/s via nightmares, frightening thoughts, and flashbacks. Such flashbacks may occur without warning and leave a PTSD patient in a state of distress. An individual who has experienced a traumatic event take steps to avoid objects or places that may trigger memories or flashbacks of the event. Other symptoms may including having difficulties falling asleep, be startled easily and being tense at all times. Other characteristics of PTSD negative thoughts about self or the world at large.
In children, a common PTSD symptom is bedwetting that recurs after successful toilet training. Others behaviors seen in children exposed to traumatic events include wanting to be near supportive adults; acting out the event during playtime, and sometimes they may lose their ability to speak temporarily. Older children, especially teens, could become rebellious and develop disruptive behaviors due to trauma.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), most people begin to exhibit PTSD symptoms within three months of the a traumatic event. However, some people can suppress their emotions and only begin to exhibit PTSD symptoms years after experiencing trauma. For symptoms to meet the criteria of PTSD, they must persist for more than a month and severely affect relationships as well as the the person’s ability to function. Nevertheless, the NIMH says some people never develop PTSD symptoms even after experiencing events that are traumatic to others. Such people simply develop mild stress related symptoms that disappear after a few weeks. Medical experts call such a condition acute stress disorder (ASD). This notwithstanding, it is wise to consult a medical expert if you or someone you care about is experiencing these symptoms.
Tips for Helping a Person with PTSD
It is difficult to see someone you care about struggling, but there are ways that you can be supportive. The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs suggests the following, which are appropriate for veterans and non-veterans alike:
• Learn as much as you can about PTSD. Knowing how PTSD affects people may help you understand what your family member is going through. The more you know, the better you and your family can handle PTSD.
• Offer to go to doctor visits with your family member. You can help keep track of medicine and therapy, and you can be there for support.
• Tell your loved one you want to listen and that you also understand if he or she doesn’t feel like talking.
• Plan family activities together, like having dinner or going to a movie.
• Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or do some other physical activity together. Exercise is important for health and helps clear your mind.
• Encourage contact with family and close friends. A support system will help your family member get through difficult changes and stressful times.
Your family member may not want your help. If this happens, keep in mind that withdrawal can be a symptom of PTSD. A person who withdraws may not feel like talking, taking part in group activities, or being around other people. Give your loved one space, but tell him or her that you will always be ready to help.
PTSD Medical Treatment
Post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable! In the US, PTSD can be treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy. The medication most often prescribed are Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs. It is worth noting that SSRIs are the only conventional medications approved by the FDA for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Physicians may also recommend a single or multiple types of therapies. The common types of therapies used to treat this disorder include cognitive restructuring, anxiety management training, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness training, as well as group and family therapy. The choice of therapy depends on factors such as the patient’s overall health, age, nature of PTSD (short-term or chronic), triggers, PTSD cause, and diagnosis results.
Currently, approximately 49.9% of Americans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are receiving treatment. Early intervention typically improves treatment outcomes, but unfortunately treatment does not guarantee immediate relief. The NIMH says some people recover within six months while others, especially those diagnosed with chronic PTSD, could take much longer.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops when someone experiences an extremely traumatic event such as witnessing the death of a loved one, sexual abuse, physical assault, exposure to violence in a war zone, and witnessing an assault. The media has also reported cases of PTSD caused by witnessing the suffering of other people. PTSD patients should be encouraged to seek help as soon as possible. Medications and therapy-based interventions are quite effective in treating PTSD.
Harris, M. & Fallot, R. D. (2001). Using trauma informed theory to design service systems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
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