Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that develops in people who experience scary, shocking, or traumatic events. The movies Thank You for Your Service and American Sniper portray the real-life experiences of soldiers battling PTSD.
PTSD is a common mental health condition found in the military and other service members, but it isn’t just experienced by veterans. People who experience abuse, violence, or tragedies can also be diagnosed with it.
PTSD can happen at any age because you’ll never know if you will experience traumatic life events. For some, the symptoms are controllable, but it’s a battlefield for others. If you or someone you know was exposed to a traumatic event and is experiencing unhealthy reactions even without the threat of danger, see if you need help from a mental health professional.
What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Here’s the thing. Some people experiencing traumatic life events may not have PTSD, but some may do. Why?
The answer depends on the experience, the length of exposure to the traumatic event, and the person’s coping skills. Some people may have PTSD, but they are not aware of its presence. That’s why they won’t know it’s there in the first place.
According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), here are the reasons, risk factors, or causes why a person is likely to develop PTSD:
- Witnessing, experiencing, or learning about a harmful event (serious accident, car accident, natural disaster, physical injury)
- Unpleasant childhood experiences like physical and sexual assault
- Serious, life-threatening health problems
- Severe trauma like miscarriage or losing a baby
- Witnessing the death of a loved one
- Military combat, torture, witnessing a crime
- Existing mental health issues in people who experience traumatic stress
How to Know If Someone Has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Here’s what you should know: the symptoms of PTSD do not appear immediately. The symptoms may occur within one month after the traumatic occurrence. The symptoms may vary from person to person and may start to interrupt daily activities, work, and relationships.
There are four types of PTSD symptoms. These are avoidance, intrusive memories, negative changes, arousal, and reactivity symptoms.
- Avoids talking or thinking about the trauma exposure
- Memory problems or selective memory (only remembering parts of the traumatic event)
- Avoiding places, people, or activities that remind them of the disturbing experience
- Withdrawal from situations that remind them of the trauma
Intrusive Thoughts and Memories
- Having flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Recurrent and unwanted disturbing memories of the horrifying episode
- Having nightmares or bad dreams of the negative experience
- Experiencing physical reactions and emotional distress when reminded of the traumatic situation
- Randomly gets stuck in the middle of the day with the memories intruding their mind
Negative Changes in Mood and Thoughts
- Having negative thoughts about themself, their life situations, and other people
- Developing a negative perspective after the disturbing event
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Difficulty in maintaining relationships with family, friends, or colleagues
- Social withdrawal or being detached from friends and family members
- Loss of interest in activities enjoyed before
- Having a hard time developing positive emotions
- Being emotionally numb (does not feel emotional pain or unable to cry)
Arousal and Reactivity
- Appears to be easily startled (e.g., war veterans who develop PTSD easily get startled even with gunshots on television)
- Negative emotional and physical reactions (like angry outbursts when reminded about the traumatic event)
- Being paranoid or obsessively on guard about danger (e.g., the ones who develop PTSD because of a car accident are extra cautious or afraid to ride a car)
- Self-destructive and harmful behaviors (drinking too much or substance abuse)
- Insomnia, inability to fall asleep, or trouble staying asleep
- Inability to concentrate on daily tasks (appears to be daydreaming or distracted)
- Irritable, acts aggressively, and has anger outbursts
PTSD Symptoms in Children 6 Years and Below
- May re-enact the disturbing experience through play, words, or actions. For example, kids who experienced sexual abuse undress their Barbies or dolls.
- Experiencing nightmares, screaming while sleeping, wetting the bed
- Appears to be isolated and likes to play alone
How Intense Can the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Be?
If there are no mental health interventions, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can worsen over time. If a person with PTSD is experiencing a stressful event in life or encounters a situation that reminds them of the traumatic event, the symptoms may worsen.
For instance, patients diagnosed with PTSD who were sexually assaulted may feel overwhelmed and react negatively when they see or hear news about sexual abuse. That is why it is essential to see a mental health care provider immediately.
What Are the Stages of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Knowing the stages of post-traumatic stress disorder is vital so you may know what to expect in a person experiencing PTSD or if you’re experiencing it yourself. Here are the four stages of PTSD:
1. Impact or “Emergency” Stage
The impact or emergency stage happens immediately after the traumatic event. It is expected for the person to be in a state of shock and struggle to understand why this is happening. It is likely that in the impact or emergency stage, the person may appear to be hypervigilant, is crying or having crying spells, anxious, and struggling with guilt (blaming oneself for what happened).
2. Denial Stage
Then there’s the denial stage, although not everybody experiences it. However, those who do will avoid thinking about the traumatic event or painful emotions. Usually, the avoidance symptoms appear during this stage. Others resort to drinking or using recreational drugs to numb their feelings.
3. Short-Term Recovery Stage
During the short-term recovery stage, the person with PTSD seeks solutions to address the problem. However, this stage can go both ways: they accept that they need help or appear aggressive to suppress the stressful experience. The person will start making adjustments or the conscious choice of returning to normal with everyday tasks. During this stage, intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares may still occur, making it challenging to adjust to daily tasks.
4. Long-Term Recovery Stage
During the long-term recovery stage, the person with PTSD will continue to deal with the trauma. There can still be nightmares and anxiety, but with treatment, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder become more manageable, and healthy coping can be learned. With constant support from family members and health care providers, a person with PTSD can eventually be calmer and return to normal day-to-day activities.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatments and Therapies
The question is, will PTSD go away on its own without treatment? For some, the symptoms or memories may fade away in months or years. However, there may be negative after-effects that can change an individual (like being so negative or overly aggressive).
Not going for PTSD treatment and consulting with a mental health care provider make the symptoms linger or worse for others. Certain factors can also trigger an individual with PTSD when reminded of the traumatizing event. If there is ongoing trauma in a person with PTSD, the condition can worsen and lead to mental health problems like depression, substance abuse, panic disorder, and suicidal thoughts.
The following are the treatment options recommended for an individual with PTSD:
A doctor may prescribe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to control the symptoms of PTSD. These medications are prescribed for those who have sleep problems and anxiety attacks.
Talk therapy or psychotherapy in PTSD patients can be six weeks or longer. During a psychotherapy session, a person with PTSD is involved in a problem-solving situation and assessing the current situation. They also talk about their feelings and explore past events. It is proven that having a support system while in therapy is beneficial.
3. Exposure Therapy
This involves gradual exposure to the trauma in a safe and controlled environment. Exposure therapy may include talking about the traumatic experience, virtual reality technology re-enactment of the event, or visiting the place of the accident. In short, the individual faces their fear. This therapy is also effective in treating phobias.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT teaches PTSD patients to assess and make changes to their negative feelings and emotions caused by the trauma. Cognitive behavioral therapy can potentially change negative feelings like guilt or shame into less negative or neutral emotions, even positive emotions, helping the individual feel better.
How Can Therapy Help People Overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Therapy can help people with PTSD healthily cope and react to frightening experiences brought about by the traumatic experience.
During therapy, a person with PTSD can:
- Learn about the trauma and after-effects of the traumatic event
- Learn relaxation techniques and how to control anger
- Learn self-care techniques on how to be physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. Learn tips on how to exercise, eat healthily, and sleep better.
- Identify and deal with shame, guilt, and other negative feelings concerning the traumatic event
Find PTSD Therapists Online
Are you looking for a PTSD therapist online for you, a loved one, or a family member? Schedule an appointment with Kentucky Counseling Services now. PTSD is a battle that you don’t need to fight alone. Seek professional treatment now before it starts affecting your mental health, everyday life, and relationships with your loved ones.