Physical injuries caused by trauma are often quite easy to fix. Bones can be splinted, deep wounds can be bandaged and infections can be attacked at the source. In a few weeks, a person’s body can knit back together, leaving behind only faint scars on the surface of the skin. People with terrible injuries like this are often nursed to health with patience and kindness, and they’re encouraged to rest and heal. The people around them help to make that healing possible.
Beneath the surface of the skin, however, a different kind of injury may also be blossoming, as some kinds of trauma cause a psychic pain that’s slow to heal. People with these concerns also need understanding, nursing and healing, but they might also feel pressured to wipe away their memories and stuff down their feelings. If they don’t change course, they could develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health issue that could lead to a variety of very serious health consequences.
Common Causes of PTSD
PTSD is triggered by an event that is so catastrophic that the memories simply can’t be processed or forgotten. The person might feel as though death was near, or that the death of another was happening in a way that the witness couldn’t prevent. Feelings of helplessness, terror and hopelessness are common, during PTSD-producing episodes, and these strong sensations are hard for the brain to forget or deal with.
PTSD is most closely associated with wars, particularly in armed conflicts that result in terrible injuries and deaths. Soldiers might participate in attacks that seem reasonable in the heat of the fight, but they might be left with guilt or dismay about the deaths they caused. Soldiers might also form close relationships with one another, and they might be forced to see their friends die right before their eyes. Soldiers might also see things during their tours that are absolutely inexplicable, and the memories of these incidents can seem to stick with them long after they return home. The number of soldiers who have PTSD is hard to pin down, as many refuse to discuss the issue, but most experts agree that the numbers are high.
Civilians aren’t immune to the effects of PTSD, however, and many people who are living what seem to be placid and serene lives can develop symptoms when they’re exposed to a sudden and terrible episode. A study in the journal PLOS One, for example, suggests that one person in four who survives a stroke develops PTSD in the months that follow the episode. As the stroke took hold, these people likely felt terror and helplessness, and the memories of those brief moments might stick with them. Asthma attacks, heart attacks and other sudden illnesses could also cause PTSD to take hold. Sudden health attacks are just so scary that they tend to cause longstanding damage.
Healthy people may also experience PTSD if they’re exposed to a violent act, such as:
- Physical attacks by a stranger
- Domestic violence
Individual acts of violence can be unforgettably damaging, but attacks on a large scale might be even more overwhelming. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that 67 percent of people exposed to some sort of mass violence develop PTSD. People running in the Boston Marathon in 2013 might have developed symptoms when the race was over, as might people who rushed in to help the children in Sandy Hook Elementary. Unspeakable tragedies like these can leave a deep wound on the mind, and recovery can be difficult.
Person-to-person violence can be closely associated with PTSD, but nature can also conspire to make mental health elusive. An earthquake that hits without warning can make people feel as though the ground will swallow them whole, while the tsunami that follows might ruin their neighborhoods and take the lives of the people they love. Fires, flooding and more could all result in PTSD in those who survive.
People who have PTSD may work hard to keep their symptoms under control and they may not discuss their worries openly, but they may manifest behaviors that are both unusual and distressing. Often, these actions come about due to intrusive memories. People might have flashbacks of the incident, in which the mind replays the act like a film that just can’t be shut off. In these moments, the person may feel as though the incident is really happening again, and the person might react with intense violence, yelling or crying. Some people have these flashbacks during the day, but others have them at night when their dreams are hijacked by memories.
PTSD can also cause emotional numbing, in which the person seems sedated and unable to respond to normal emotions. The person might struggle to remember details, and may not be interested in engaging in activities that were once considered enjoyable. The person might not even be interested in maintaining close relationships.
Struggling with these memories can just be difficult, and not surprisingly, people who have PTSD often seem irritable or angry, sleeping little and refusing to relax. They might also engage in destructive behavior, and that might include taking in huge quantities of drugs and alcohol. These substances seem to soothe them in the moment, but they can also make feelings of isolation and depression yet more severe, and they can also boost the intensity of flashbacks and hallucinations. As a result, those who engage in substance abuse may develop symptoms that are much more severe than those they’d deal with due to uncomplicated PTSD.
Leaving PTSD untreated can also lead to tragedy, as some people who have this condition become so delusional and so frightened that they hurt or maim the people they love. Sometimes, they even attempt to end their own lives, and those attempts are often successful.
People who have PTSD might feel terrible, but they might also resist the idea of enrolling in treatment programs that could help. For example, in a study quoted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, of those troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who met the criteria for PTSD, fewer than half demonstrated an interest in getting some kind of help. It’s sad, as treatment really can make a big difference in helping people to cope with their memories and feelings.
Exposure therapy is one option that might help people with PTSD. Here, they learn stress-control techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, and they then spend time discussing the incident in great detail with their therapists. The idea here is to help survivors process their memories and come to a different understanding about what happened and what could have been done differently. Those who believe that they could have saved others might learn that the incident really couldn’t be controlled, and that grief is an appropriate response. Those who felt helpless in the moment might learn that they’re not helpless now, and that they can let go of those feelings of worry. Therapy like this sounds frightening, but a therapist is there at each moment to provide help, guidance and reassurance. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that exposure therapy is the most helpful treatment for PTSD, and that it can make a big difference in the lives of people who have this mental illness. It could be a good therapy to try.
People with PTSD might also benefit from a form of cognitive processing therapy, in which they:
- Identify their PTSD symptoms
- Name the thoughts and feelings they experience when thinking about the trauma
- Challenge those thoughts and feelings that might reflect underlying inaccuracies
- Find a balance between the feelings they had in the moment and the helpful feelings that might allow them to move forward
Some people with PTSD benefit from alternative therapies such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Here, they discuss the incident in question while using their eyes to track the motion of the therapist’s hands. The back-and-forth eye motions are said to help the brain to process the memories, reducing the stress and distress a person might be feeling. Not all facilities offer this treatment, but those that do might be quite helpful for some people with PTSD.
Substance abuse therapy might also play a role in the healing process. People who have been abusing drugs might need medical therapies that allow them to get sober in a safe and controlled manner, and they might need individual therapy and group work in order to keep their cravings for drugs under control. This work should happen in tandem with the PTSD therapy in progress, ensuring that both issues are both addressed and controlled. This is the kind of care we can offer you at Black Bear Lodge.
We specialize in developing customized plans that can help you to deal with a mental illness that’s compounded by an addiction. All of the therapies you’ll receive in our facility will deal with both problems you’re facing, and the knowledge you’ll gain will be intense. We have a staff of talented intake professionals who answer calls around the clock from families just like yours, so please call us to find out more. We’re happy to help.