Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Although it was once considered to be a war-related issue described as ‘shell shock’ or battle fatigue syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now acknowledged as a serious condition that results from exposure to any situation resulting in overwhelming terror.

People Experience PTSD In The USA Annually

What is PTSD?

PTSD is the debilitating and persistent after-effect of surviving an ordeal that caused feelings of extreme fear and helplessness. 

With about 5.2 million people in America experiencing PTSD annually, almost anyone can develop the condition under the right circumstances. However, women tend to experience it more than men, possibly as a result of the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual abuse. 

Studies have also indicated that PTSD may be experienced more intensely by certain ethnic groups, specifically US Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians, who may be less likely to seek out or complete therapy due to cultural beliefs. 

Although PTSD is prevalent, it is not guaranteed that a victim will develop the condition. Early PTSD treatment can minimize the risk of victims of trauma from experiencing long-term symptoms of PTSD.

Traumatic events can take many forms and incorporate a vast range of situations, including natural disasters, war, rape, serious accidents, or the loss of a loved one. 

Additionally, families of victims of such events can also develop symptoms after worrying about what their friend or family member may have endured. 

The condition can also be experienced by rescue workers or emergency personnel assisting victims of horrifying events.

Symptoms of PTSD

While it is normal to feel shock, anger, nervousness, fear, or disbelief after a bad experience, PTSD is a far more extreme reaction. 

PTSD symptoms are characterized by repeated thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event that are incredibly acute and upsetting. Symptoms generally commence within three months of the event, although it is not uncommon for them to start much later. 

The responses may last for a month or longer and can be overwhelming enough to affect regular life.

Signs of PTSD are varied but can be categorized into four main types, namely:

Causes of PTSD

PTSD is the result of a complex combination of elements, generally triggered by exposure to trauma. Combined with inherited mental health issues, temperament, and the way that an individual’s brain regulates stress-related hormones and chemicals, a person may be more or less likely to develop the condition. 

PTSD can be caused by:

By being threatened or faced with death

Exposure to combat situations

Being in an accident, kidnapped, or taken hostage

Any Type of Assault

Repeatedly witnessing traumatic events (Medical staff)

Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

Experiencing a loved one’s violent death or injury

Childhood abuse

Surviving disaster – whether natural or man-made

Risk Factors for PTSD

Although anyone can potentially experience PTSD, some are more likely to develop the condition. 

People have more chance of developing PTSD after a traumatic event if they:

Have experienced previous trauma, such as childhood abuse

Are exposed to repeated life-threatening situations

Have a history of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety

Lack a support structure to process a traumatic event

Have blood relations with mental health issues

Have a history of alcohol or drug abuse

Work in a field that increases the risk of exposure to dangerous situations

Are biologically—due to brain chemistry—prone to stress responses

Diagnosis of PTSD

Since most people will exhibit adverse effects immediately after a traumatic ordeal, in most cases, post-traumatic stress disorder is not diagnosed until a month after a particular event has occurred. 

If a doctor identifies the indicators, they will conduct a physical examination and consider the patient’s complete medical history. This will eliminate any physical conditions that might be causing the symptoms.

Once all alternatives are ruled out, the doctor may question the patient about any events related to the start of the condition, and then refer them to a mental health specialist. 

Using criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a psychiatrist or psychologist will interview the patient based on customized questionnaires and assessment tools to assess their condition.

Treatment for PTSD

PTSD treatment requires a measured approach and is unlikely to completely remove all symptoms since this would require eradication of the memory of the event. 

With patience and persistence, people can build skills to manage the condition with fewer and less intense episodes. 

Therapy primarily aims to minimize physical and emotional side-effects to allow victims to return to regular daily activities. Treatment programs include a combination of medications to manage the symptoms and counseling to provide better coping skills for dealing with triggers in the long term.

PTSD medications are prescribed to address multiple aspects of the condition. These may include:

Antidepressants

Anti-anxiolytics

Mood-stabilizers

Anti-psychotics

Various blood pressure medications that may help with sleep, reduce nightmares, and reduce traumatic memories

Patients are also assisted by learning how to manage the symptoms with a range of therapy protocols:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

CBT helps patients learn new coping skills for managing their symptoms, come to terms with the fears related to the event, and change the thought patterns associated with them.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy:

During this mode of treatment, a person is exposed to items or situations that trigger anxiety, while within a safe environment. This allows them to confront their fear and grow more able to function in potentially stressful situations.

Eye Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):

With some similarities to prolonged exposure therapy, EMDR stimulates the recollection of a traumatic event, and then distracts the patient from their emotional reaction to it. This eventually minimizes the reaction to the extent that the person is able to manage their responses more positively.

Family Therapy:

Families can play a significant role in supporting a PTSD victim, as well as addressing the effect their loved one may be having on their lives.

Group Therapy:

Interacting with other group members allows people to share their experiences and discuss the thoughts and feelings attached with others who have had similar ordeals.

Psychodynamic Therapy:

This protocol examines the patient’s feelings surrounding the event and allows them to understand the emotional conflicts involved.

Get Help for PTSD

If left untreated, PTSD can lead to further complications such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and even thoughts of or attempts at suicide. These symptoms can impact relationships, health, work, and regular daily activities.

However, PTSD treatment can have a positive outlook if implemented by a specialist healthcare provider. Having the right support can minimize the risk of complications and the potential for misusing drugs or alcohol to manage symptoms. 

Psyclarity Health San Diego has a team of skilled, caring counselors with experience in implementing effective PTSD therapy programs designed to help patients return to a more fulfilling life.

Get in touch with us today for help with post-traumatic stress disorder or counseling following a traumatic event.

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