When most people experience something traumatic, they suffer from anxiety and intrusive thoughts about the event for a period of time afterward. However, given some time, these thoughts and feelings fade away, and their lives return to normal. For some people, though, the anxiety and thoughts are combined with other symptoms, and they go on for much longer, disrupting daily life. These people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a treatable psychiatric disorder that affects people who have experienced (or sometimes just witnessed) a traumatic event. It is a disorder that can affect anyone, no matter how strong or resilient they may be. It’s estimated that nearly 8 million people in the United States suffer from PTSD and that about 7 or 8 out of 100 people will develop the disorder at some point in their lives.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. In fact, about 70 percent of people experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, but only about 20 percent actually develop PTSD as a result.
What Causes PTSD?
Any event that a person finds traumatic can cause PTSD, regardless of how extreme the event is, or how long it lasts. It is not something that they can just “get over” when danger is no longer imminent. PTSD happens when someone’s brain and body physically react to a perceived threat; they go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode instinctually. For many people, that physical reaction goes away when the danger is gone. For those with PTSD, that reactive feeling either doesn’t go away completely, or it is reactivated repeatedly – even when there is no threat.
The most common traumatic events that result in the development of PTSD are:
- Auto accidents
- Childhood neglect
Again, it can be any event that a person finds traumatic, so it may be something that is not on this list. It can also be something that is witnessed, not directly experienced by someone.
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms that PTSD sufferers experience can be severe and are often disruptive to their daily lives and relationships with others. PTSD symptoms can be divided into three categories – reliving the trauma, avoidance or numbing, and hyperarousal symptoms.
When experiencing reliving symptoms, a person with PTSD is likely to feel anxiety, depression, and fear because it is as though their body is reliving the traumatic experience. They often experience this through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the event.
Avoidance and numbness symptoms include the efforts to avoid people, places, sights, sounds, or smells that remind the person of the traumatic event. PTSD sufferers may also try to avoid or numb their emotions and thoughts about the event. These symptoms are the main cause of substance abuse in people with PTSD, as they often self-medicate in an attempt to escape the thoughts and feelings.
People with PTSD also experience hyperarousal symptoms or the feeling of always being on alert. They may be hypervigilant, perceiving danger even when there is none. They may have an exaggerated startle response to noises – for example, a war veteran may be triggered by a car backfiring. Hyperarousal symptoms can include frustration, irritability, angry outbursts, and insomnia.
Treatment for PTSD
The good news about PTSD is that it is treatable, and many people do fully recover from it. Even for those who do not recover completely, treatment typically lessens symptoms enough to make it manageable. So there is no reason to lose hope if you have been diagnosed with PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD is most commonly a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and the prescribing of medication. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and sometimes anti-psychotic medications are the most widely prescribed drugs for PTSD.
Sometimes treatment is administered on an outpatient basis, but there are many treatment facilities that now provide inpatient PTSD treatment. Completing PTSD treatment in a residential treatment center allows patients to get away from their normal lives and focus on recovery, and it often results in quicker progress than traditional methods.
Here at Merito, we can provide you with a PTSD treatment program that will help with your recovery. You do not have to do this alone; we are here to support you as you begin to heal.