Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue resulting from experiencing extreme trauma. PTSD can make people feel like they are unable to live a normal life, like they don’t belong anymore. 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.
Trauma inducing situations are usually marked by shocking or scary circumstances in which a person feels threatened or helpless.1 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 and 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 neglect2
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
Most people who experience a traumatic event will have symptoms of trauma-related stress. However, the main difference between PTSD and trauma-related stress is one tends to get worse over time and the other tends to improve. 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.
In the case of PTSD, symptoms increase over time rather than decrease. In some cases, symptoms of PTSD appear long after the event or come and go over time. Often something will trigger the memory and cause the person to feel as if he is actually reliving the traumatic event.
Symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- 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 startled3
If you or a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms, it’s time to get help.
Treatment Strategies for PTSD
There are several types of therapy that are appropriate for the treatment of PTSD. Most focus on accepting the traumatic memory and processing it in a healthy way. Treatment can be inpatient or outpatient and will last as long as your therapist sees fit. Common modalities include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This is a type of talk therapy that assess faulty thinking perpetuating PTSD symptoms. CBT 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 process with their memories in healthy ways and coping with the accompanying emotions. It often uses virtual reality programs to 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 individuals 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.
By Becca Owens
1“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Feb. 2016.
2“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” mayoclinic.com. 6 July 2018
3“Common Reactions After PTSD.” US Department of Veterans Affairs, Accessed 20 Dec 2018.