Working Through Trauma: Understanding PTSD

PTSD (or post-traumatic stress disorder) has received a good amount of press as it relates to the experience of some veterans. But what’s missing from the headlines is the fact that this mental health issue can affect a much wider population. June is National PTSD Awareness Month, so it seems appropriate to dig into this topic a little deeper.

So, what exactly is PTSD? In simple terms, it’s significant emotional or mental anguish experienced following some sort of trauma. For example, it could be an accident, injury, abuse, death or any unpleasant or intense experience.

PTSD is usually diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following the trauma. However, symptoms may not appear for years. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “the disorder is characterized by four main types of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Feeling cut off from others and other negative alterations in cognitions (ways of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering) and mood.
  • Marked changes in arousal and reactivity, including difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, easily irritated, and angered.”

PTSD impacts behavior, routines and quality of life. Those grappling with such a disorder might exhibit irritable or reckless behavior, hyper-vigilance, problems with concentration and difficultly with sleep. The affects vary according to the person and the severity of the disorder. And the root causes can be just as varied. In fact, PTSD does not discriminate across age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Any survivor can be left with carrying this burden, which can last a lifetime for some if treatment is not pursued.

It’s also more common than you might think. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about one in eleven Americans will develop PTSD in a lifetime and even children are not immune from it.  However, there are certain people who may be more predisposed to developing the condition than others. Anxiety and depression can make people more at risk. Repeat trauma, like sexual abuse, can also enter into the equation. Additionally, it’s important to note that everybody’s brain regulates chemicals and hormones differently in response to stress. This accounts for the differences in how some people seem to “bounce back” from intense events, while others don’t.

If you or someone you love is dealing with PTSD, know that there is hope and support. It is possible to have a fulfilling life while addressing the root causes and triggers of this disorder.   Find more information on our Trauma Topic Page  page and don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional.  Go to  Find Help to find a provider near you.

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