According to the Veteran’s Administration, eight people out of 100 will experience PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, at some point in their lifetime. A mental health problem that can happen after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, an assault, or experiencing combat, PTSD is very treatable and can go away for most people.
How long someone can experience PTSD varies, and there is no definitive cure for the condition. However, most people’s symptoms do fade over time. Effective treatment is essential to help someone learn to manage their PTSD and regain their life.
Who Experiences PTSD
PTSD is often associated with veterans who have been exposed to combat, but anyone who experiences a traumatic event can develop PTSD. Other events that can cause PTSD include:
- Childhood physical abuse
- Sexual violence
- Physical assault or torture
- Being threatened with a weapon
- An accident
- Natural disasters
- Mugging or robbery
- Plane crash
- Life-threatening medical diagnosis
- A terrorist attack
- Any other extreme or life-threatening events
Some people may experience PTSD symptoms immediately following a traumatic event, while others may not until years later. Standard practice is that a person must experience symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event to diagnose PTSD.
Risk Factors for PTSD
Experts can’t explain why some people develop PTSD after a traumatic event and others don’t. However, there are some risk factors that many with PTSD seem to share. They are:
- Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma
- Having another trauma happen earlier in life, such as childhood abuse
- Working in a job that increases exposure to traumatic events, such as military personnel and first responders
- Living with other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Having issues with substance misuse, such as excess drinking or drug use
- Lacking a sound support system of family and friends
- Being related to others with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression
Just as it varies who will experience PTSD, the symptoms that someone has may be different from those of another person. PTSD symptoms are commonly grouped into four categories:
- Intrusive memories
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
The symptoms can come and go over time. They may also vary in intensity.
An example of an intrusive memory is reliving the traumatic event either through memories, flashbacks, or dreams. Avoidance behaviors can include avoiding any discussion of the traumatic event, as well as any people, places, or things associated with the trauma.
Negative changes in thinking may range from feelings of hopelessness to a lack of interest in activities that once brought pleasure. Trouble sleeping, irritability, and being easily startled are some possible physical and emotional changes someone with PTSD can experience.
Treatment for PTSD will be customized for the individual, but typically includes talk therapy and medication. The goal is for the individual to regain a sense of control over their life.
The most common forms of therapy used are cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Cognitive therapy helps identify thought patterns that may be stuck in a negative vein. Exposure therapy allows the individual to safely experience the traumatic memories or situations to learn to cope with them. A series of guided eye movements, EMDR works to assist the person in processing traumatic memories and changing their reaction to them.
The most common medications prescribed to those dealing with PTSD are antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Some people may be given both to help manage their accompanying symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of PTSD can be improved by:
- Teaching the person skills to address their symptoms
- Helping the individual think better about themself, others, and the world
- Learning ways to cope if any symptoms arise again
- Treating other problems often related to traumatic experiences, such as depression, anxiety, or misuse of alcohol or drugs
It is common for anniversaries of the traumatic event or even reminders of the trauma to cause someone’s PTSD symptoms to flare. Continuing to follow a PTSD care plan and practicing self-care in terms of eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting plenty of rest can help. Finally, reaching out for support as needed, whether from friends and family or health care professionals, is essential when symptoms arise.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.