Understanding PTSD

After people experience mental or physical trauma, a mental health condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can manifest. PTSD can cause symptoms such as anger, avoidance, and flashbacks. A common misconception associated with PTSD is that it mainly affects combat veterans is not true.  PTSD can affect a person from any walk of life and any age.

In fact, about 7.7 million adults in the United States live with PTSD. Some of these patients also live with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse disorder. Sadly, many people with PTSD feel as though there is no hope for healing. There is hope. Mental health professionals can help those suffering with PTSD significantly improve the lives through therapy, medication, and other treatment methods.

Classifications of PTSD

Professionals divide PTSD into four distinct types:

  • Avoidance:Those suffering with this type of PTSD completely avoid anything that even remotely relates to the original incident that triggered PTSD.
  • Intrusive memories:These patients experience recurrent thoughts and intense, realistic flashbacks to the triggering event.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions:Patients with this type of PTSD go through drastic emotional and physical changes.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood:This type of PTSD causes patients to focus solely on the negative things in life.

Those struggling with PTSD exhibit one or two types of the disorder. Certain kinds of triggers tend to results in specific types of PTSD. (e.g., a gunshot can cause a combat veteran to experience intrusive memories)

What Causes PTSD?

Witnessing or being the victim of a traumatic event is typically the cause of PTSD. Traumatic life events can be almost anything, but a few common examples include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Robbery or mugging
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Natural disaster
  • War
  • Terror attacks
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Domestic abuse
  • Mass shootings

It’s crucial for those struggling with PTSD to avoid comparing their trauma with another person’s experiences. There is no traumatic event that is “not bad enough” to warrant going without treatment. Each person with PTSD is unique and providers treat each person with dignity and respect.

Symptoms of PTSD

Because PTSD is unique in every person, two people can go through the exact same thing together and have different emotional reactions. As such, PTSD has many different symptoms, and those struggling with this disorder may only have some of them. The common symptoms of PTSD are different for women, men, and veterans.

PTSD Symptoms in Women

In their lives, women are up to three times more likely to develop PTSD than their male peers. In women, the most common symptoms are:

  • Emotional catatonia
  • Avoidance of anything dealing with the trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Being easily startled

Possibly due to the types of symptoms they have or the types of trauma they are more likely to experience, women tend to be more reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD than men.

PTSD Symptoms in Men

When men develop PTSD, they are more likely to manifest these symptoms:

  • Impulsive risky behavior
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Irritability

Men tend to seek treatment within a year of a traumatic event. However, anyone who shows symptoms within three months of a trauma should seek help immediately.

Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans

PTSD was once called “shell shock,” and it is common in those who have served during wars. Veterans who develop PTSD often report the following symptoms:

  • Feeling emotionally shunted
  • Realistic flashbacks and nightmares
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on guard at all times
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled by loud, sudden noises

How to Treat PTSD

Treatment plans for those with PTSD may include therapy and/or medication. We advise patients to work closely with a mental health team to find the approach that works best for them.

PTSD Support Groups

PTSD can make people feel isolated, even from their loved ones. PTSD support groups lend a sense of community and solidarity. Participants in these sessions share their stories and learn from one another.

Individual PTSD Therapy

Types of talk therapy that can help people with PTSD include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Narrative Exposure Therapy
  • Prolonged Exposure
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy

Therapist-Led Trauma Group Therapy

In therapist-led group therapy, people who have gone through similar traumatic events come together with a counselor. The therapist asks participants to share their experiences, provides constructive feedback, and gives the group ideas for coping mechanisms.