Imagine witnessing or experiencing something so upsetting that you can’t get it out of your mind. A fellow soldier blown up right in front of you. A terrible traffic accident that killed the person next to you. A sexual assault on you by an assailant who threatened your life.
Trauma — an emotional response to a disturbing event — can take a severe toll on a person’s mental and physical health, sometimes leading to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives, and about 12 million people in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year.
PTSD Awareness Day is dedicated to recognizing and supporting those living with PTSD. The condition used to be called “combat fatigue” and “shell shock.” But veterans aren’t the only people who experience PTSD. Anyone can. The most common causes include combat exposure, childhood physical abuse, sexual violence, physical assault, being threatened with a weapon, and vehicular accidents.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): “It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.”
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that the severity of PTSD varies, but symptoms typically fall into four main categories:
- Intrusion: Intrusion encompases thoughts that are repeated and involuntary, such as flashbacks, dreams, or uncontrolled memories.
- Avoidance: Actively avoiding reminders of the traumatic event can include staying away from places, people, things, activities, and situations that remind them of the traumatic incident. They might also resist discussing the matter or how they feel about it.
- Alterations in Cognition and Mood: People with PTSD can experience an inability to remember major aspects of the traumatic event. They can have disordered thoughts about the event that often lead to wrongful blaming or harbor negative feelings toward themselves, and have feelings of fear, anger, shame, guilt, horror, or detachment. They might also have less interest in previously enjoyed activities, or be unable to experience positive emotions.
- Alterations in Behavioral Reactivity: These symptoms include irritable and angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive manner; feeling overly suspicious; being easily startled; and/or struggling with sleeping and concentrating.
How Is PTSD Treated?
The APA outlines three main forms of treatment:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This encompasses psychotherapies that are used over prolonged periods of time to help PTSD sufferers address their trauma and overcome symptoms. CBT includes Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Stress Inoculation Therapy, and Group Therapy.
- Medication: Medications such as antidepressants and others can be used to help manage symptoms, but also to assist during psychotherapy.
- Complementary and Alternative Therapies: Treatment approaches outside conventional clinical therapies can include animal-assisted therapy and acupuncture.
The “D” in PTSD — it stands for “disorder” — can cause shame and confusion in some people suffering with this condition. But PTSD is not a defect or the result of doing something wrong. In fact, says the NIMH: “Anyone can develop PTSD at any age.” No one should feel stigmatized for experiencing PTSD. And no one has to struggle alone with PTSD’s effects.
- Here are seven coping and support suggestions from the Mayo Clinic.
- And anyone in the U.S. considering harming themselves should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. (Starting on July 16, 2022, a new three-digit dialing code to reach the Lifeline will also take effect nationwide: 988.)
HMS’ Commitment to Helping Individuals Suffering from PTSD
HMS believes in a world where vulnerable people are treated with respect and dignity; where no vulnerable person becomes just another statistic; and where the government at all levels uses its laws, regulations, and resources to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
People suffering from PTSD must be embraced, respected, and helped. HMS will remain diligent by supporting state and federal agencies in serving veterans and other populations that are particularly vulnerable to PTSD.