Are you reading this with June 27 around the corner? If so, then that means PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day is coming around. PTSD is a serious mental health issue that affects millions of people worldwide, and from all walks of life—not necessarily just in the military or armed forces.
Without proper treatment and management of symptoms, PTSD can have a drastic impact on a sufferer’s quality of life and well-being, enough that they may entertain thoughts of committing suicide. More than 40,000 people commit suicide in the United States, and a considerable chunk of that involves PTSD. Moreover, many studies have shown that suicide risk is markedly higher for persons with PTSD.
To be able to live their lives as normally as they can with this condition, individuals with PTSD need all the help and support they can get, not just from medical professionals but also from the people in their lives: their friends, loved ones, and colleagues.
Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. PTSD is largely a mental health condition, so sufferers often show no physical signs of having this disorder. This makes it hard for those around them to recognize the presence of PTSD, which then hinders their ability to empathize or provide support. This may further isolate the person and make their symptoms worse.
To help prevent against this, as well as bolster the efforts of PTSD Awareness Day, this guide seeks to help readers understand what PTSD is and its effects on the human psyche. We will also be looking at ways that PTSD can be managed, both with outside help and by the sufferers themselves.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder may develop following exposure to an unpredictable and uncontrollable event involving a very real threat of severe physical harm or even death. As such, PTSD is quite common among members of the military, armed forces, or police officers. It is also prevalent among rescue workers, emergency personnel, and survivors of traumatic events such as shootings, bombings or other acts of war, violence, rape, assault, and natural disasters. Basically, anyone who suffers an event that elicits extreme feelings of helplessness and hopelessness has the potential to get PTSD.
However, it’s not just the victims of a traumatic event that can develop PTSD. Those who witness the event or have to perform rescue, cleanup, or emergency services after the event may also contract the disorder. Moreover, family members and friends of the victim can also get PTSD even if they weren’t present or directly involved with the event at all, through a phenomenon called vicarious trauma.
The effects of PTSD are numerous and excessively detrimental to one’s sense of self and well-being. Without proper management or treatment, PTSD can result in the following:
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD manifests differently for each individual. Everyone responds to stress differently, and some individuals may have a harder tolerance for stress and trauma than others. Moreover, an individual’s personal life experiences may make them more predisposed in dealing with trauma in a better way. There is also the fact that while PTSD often comes to the fore hours or days after the traumatic event, there have been cases where it took weeks, months, or even years before any actual symptom develops, seemingly coming out of the blue. With that said, here are four classic symptoms of this disorder.
How does PTSD differ from a normal response to trauma?
Nearly everyone who suffers or experiences a traumatic experience will exhibit some symptoms of PTSD. This includes feelings of being unbalanced, numb, or disconnected from the rest of the world. A victim may even suffer bad dreams about the event and find themselves reliving it in their head constantly. This is a completely normal response to what they’ve just undergone and can be classified as “shock”.
Such symptoms will only be temporary for most individuals, from several days to a couple of weeks, gradually improving and lifting as time goes on. However, when a victim finds that the symptoms fail to improve and even grow worse each day, then they may be suffering from PTSD.
What happens to the human brain to cause the development of PTSD?
PTSD develops when two key areas of the brain stop working properly or as intended. The first is the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure that’s located in the middle of the temporal lobe. Its main purpose is to detect threats around the individual and activate the “fight or flight” response as necessary when threats are found. From there, it activates the nervous system to help deal with the threat, which means heightening reflexes, supplying adrenalin, and releasing the stress hormone cortisol into the body. Finally, it helps the victim store memories related to the threat, so that the next time they encounter and remember the threat, they are less prone to being taken by surprise and can address the threat in a ready and stable manner.
The second area of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, or PFC. It’s located in the frontal lobe, the part of the human brain closest to the forehead. This part of the brain helps the individual make the right decisions based on what’s happening and what they are currently feeling. It regulates attention, awareness, and emotions. It also helps inhibit or correct reactions that may not be commensurate to what’s happening at hand, such as responding with violence to a harmless joke or prank.
From here, we can easily see how PTSD manifests with the dysfunction of these two areas. Because of the traumatic event, an individual suffering from PTSD will have an amygdala that is hyper-sensitive to threats, as well as a slow or impaired medial PFC that cannot effectively calm down or de-escalate the threat response the amygdala is firing off.
How is PTSD treated?
PTSD treatment is a long and complicated process, but as long as it’s followed faithfully and support from friends and family is in abundance, such a serious condition can be managed.
Treatment usually starts out with a detailed evaluation of the victim’s experiences and current symptoms. From there, a treatment plan that addresses the victim’s unique needs is developed, and this may involve psychotherapy or medication. In some cases both may be required, as usually one or the other may not be enough to truly resolve someone’s PTSD, especially when the event the condition stems from is a particularly severe one. Both may also be required if symptoms have progressed to the point that the victim’s quality of life is severely compromised. In all cases, however, working with a mental health professional is usually required for the best results.
If the cause of the victim’s PTSD is an ongoing situation, such as a stressful work environment or an abusive spouse, then treatment may also involve rescuing the victim and finding them a safe space to retreat to and receive treatment. Only when the PTSD sufferer is removed from their triggering environment can the healing truly begin.
Other treatment strategies may also include the following:
What can sufferers of PTSD do to help themselves?
If you yourself are suffering from PTSD, then there are some things that you can do to help yourself recover alongside your current treatment plan. Healing from something as traumatic as an event that can cause PTSD will take a long time, and the memories may never fade. This may make you feel that the situation is hopeless and it’s better to give up. However, by following the steps below, you can reduce your feelings of fear, loneliness, and anxiety, which will help your treatment plan work better.
PTSD is serious but it can be managed with education, medical treatment, and support
Don’t underestimate the effect of PTSD on the human psyche. If left alone and untreated, it can cause great harm to an individual’s sense of self and way of life. It needs to be medically treated just like any life-threatening disease. With that said, don’t think of it as a daunting thing either. It is something that can be managed and healed with the support of family and loved ones, things which are just as important as proper medication and therapy.
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