Trauma has extreme and potentially devastating effects on emotional health, especially when it lasts a long time. People who are exposed to danger repeatedly or for a long time may develop continuous traumatic stress disorder (CTSD) as a response. If you struggle with this issue, seek professional help as soon as possible to begin recovery.
The Beginnings of CTSD
Bursts of certain chemicals — such as cortisol, endorphins or adrenaline — can help people escape danger, but the brain partially shuts down during dangerous experiences, which can contribute to CTSD. This survival technique focuses all available attention on the crisis at hand, but emotions associated with trauma are then stored in the brain, which can lead to overwhelming problems until they are addressed.
In other words, if someone endures long-term trauma and does not have adequate help to process it, she may develop CTSD.1
The Difference between CTSD and PTSD
When people endure violent or life-threatening situations, they tend to exhibit any of the following symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
- Panic attacks
To process trauma, patients need help, which often involves a combination of counseling and medical care. However, when trauma occurs on a continual basis, the results can be even more devastating and challenging to treat. In 1986, South African writer Frank Chikane first used the term CTSD as he explored how apartheid affected a generation of children.2
He noticed that people can suffer from CTSD due to the following experiences:
- Long-term bullying
- Being raised by an alcoholic parent
- Constant exposure to violence
- Police brutality
- Workplace inequality
- Food insecurity and malnutrition
While similar to PTSD, this condition has its unique causes, so people will need specialized treatment to recover.
Effects of CTSD
Adults can certainly experience continual trauma; however, children are especially vulnerable to its effects. The brains of children and infants are constantly creating new neurological connections, so trauma will force their brains to form in abnormal ways.
Young people affected by CTSD are more likely to be incarcerated as adults, and they are more likely to die at a younger age due to violence, substance abuse or suicide.
The cumulative effect of CTSD leads to the following symptoms:
- Learning disabilities
- Panic attacks
- Dissociative disorders
- General sickness and immune deficiency
- Violent and impulsive behavior
- Substance abuse and addiction later in life
Treatment for CTSD
Treating CTSD is difficult, because many people lack the understanding or memory to process the trauma they experienced. However, certain forms of counseling — including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) — can correct the symptoms of CTSD as they help patients develop new ways to manage their responses to stress.
In many cases, a combination of medical treatment, counseling, education and skill development are needed to help people overcome the effects of CTSD.
Help for CTSD
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from CTSD, then please call our toll-free, 24-hour helpline anytime at 901-350-4575. Our admissions coordinators will answer your questions and connect you with treatment for your unique needs. CTSD does not take care of itself over time, but requires active, intensive treatment to address. Let us help you find the treatment you need; call us now for instant, confidential support.
1 Vitelli, Romeo, "When the Trauma Doesn't End." Psychology Today. May 29, 2013.
2 "Continuous Traumatic Stress." American Psychological Association, Accessed June 19, 2018.
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