The National Institute of Mental Health defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a condition resulting from experiencing extreme trauma. Most people associate PTSD with soldiers returning from combat. Although the disorder is prominent among military personal, anyone who has suffered a trauma can experience PTSD. Extreme trauma comes from extreme fear caused by a situation where a person feels threatened or helpless. Besides military combat, there are many situations that can cause this level of fear or anxiety. Some examples include the following:
- Natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, tornadoes
- Sexual abuse
- Witnessing a crime
- The death of a loved one or close friend
- Illness or disease
- Accidents like car or plane crashes
- Childhood neglect
Understanding the differences between a normal response to trauma and PTSD can help you or a loved one get help.
The Aftermath of Trauma and PTSD
Anyone who experiences a traumatic event will have symptoms of trauma-related stress. The main difference between PTSD and trauma-related stress is one tends to get worse over time and the other tends to dissipate. Feeling disconnected or numb, feelings of extreme sadness, bad dreams, fears and the inability to stop thinking about the event are all normal responses to trauma. With time, these feelings and emotions gradually lessen as the person learns to cope with the event in healthy ways. But in the case of PTSD, symptoms increase rather than decrease. In some cases, symptoms of PTSD appear long after the event or come and go over time. Often an activity will trigger the memory and send the person struggling with PTSD into a state of extreme fear or anxiety. Helpguide.org lists the following as classic symptoms of PTSD:
- Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
- Flashbacks of the event or the feeling that the event is happening again
- Intense physical symptoms like sweating, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure when reminded of the event
- Avoiding situations and places that remind you of the trauma
- Detaching from others
- Losing interest in life in general
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Inability to concentrate
- Easily startled
If you or a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms, it’s time to get help.
More than a Victim
Those who struggle with PTSD often feel as if they will never be more than just a victim. Learning to cope with symptoms and overcome them in healthy ways makes living a normal life possible. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD, recommends using active coping to deal with the symptoms of PTSD. Active coping involves accepting the impact of the trauma and taking direct action to improve your life. Active coping is ongoing and occurs even when there is no current crisis. It is a way of life and a habit that must be strengthened on a regular basis in order for healing to take place. Getting into treatment is an important first step in active coping. Recognizing that you or a loved one will have good days and bad days is also important. Accepting that recovery is a process not a destination makes actively coping with the symptoms of PTSD more manageable.
Treatment for PTSD
There are several types of therapy that are appropriate for the treatment of PTSD. Any or all of these can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis depending on your unique situation. Your intake counselor will help you understand your insurance coverage and benefits for PTSD and other mental health treatment. The recommends the following as appropriate and effective treatments for PTSD:
- Cognitive therapy – This is a type of talk therapy that helps you recognize ways of thinking that are keeping you stuck in the trauma rather than being able to move past it. Cognitive therapy focuses on changing negative or inaccurate ways of perceiving normal situations.
- Exposure therapy – This helps the person struggling with PTSD safely face what is frightening. Exposure therapy helps victims learn to cope with their memories in healthy ways and often uses virtual reality programs that let the patient re-enter the setting where the trauma was experienced.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – This treatment combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements that help you process traumatic memories and change your response to them.
Medications can also help in the treatment of PTSD. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and medication used to specifically suppress nightmares may be helpful for some people. It is important to combine medication with talk-therapy treatments so that the person struggling can gain control of their emotions and memories in healthy ways.
Finding Help for PTSD
PTSD happens as a result of extreme trauma. Learning to cope with the memories of the trauma can help you or a loved one learn to live life as more than just a victim. If you are struggling with the symptoms of PTSD, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.