PTSD – A Definitive Guide for People Suffering Their Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may occur after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event.
The person suffering from the condition may lose touch with reality, jumping back and forth between the traumatic past and the present. Feelings of numbness, vivid paranoia, and bursts of anger are common after traumatic events.
Most people have felt such intense emotions; you may have also experienced such feelings. But are those feelings normal, or is it PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD
If you or your loved one have been suffering from the following symptoms for over a month, causing significant distress or problems in your daily life, it may be PTSD.
Adults and Older Children
- Intrusive memories – Recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic event while awake or during sleep coupled with severe emotional distress and physical reactions.
- Avoidance – A person with PTSD avoids thinking or talking about the traumatic event(s). They may also go to great lengths to avoid the places or people that remind them of the trauma.
- Negative thoughts – They suffer from negative thoughts about themselves, others, or the world and don’t have much hope for the future. They may also have memory problems, like not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event.
- Relationship issues – They have difficulty initiating and maintaining close relationships and feel detached from family and friends.
- Lack of interest – The activities they once enjoyed may now seem pointless.
- Mood symptoms – They may get irritated and show aggressive behavior, followed by overwhelming guilt or shame. And to cope with such intense emotions, they may indulge in self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast.
- Physical symptoms – They may get easily startled or frightened, so they always stay on guard for danger. They may also find it hard to fall asleep and suffer from high blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, muscle tension, joint pain, nausea, headaches, and back pain.
Children and Teens
Children and teens may experience similar symptoms as adults and older children; however, some of their symptoms may not be the same.
These symptoms are:
- Using the bathroom but still wetting the bed
- Not being able to talk or forgetting how to
- Reenacting the scary event as a game
- Being overly attached to a parent or another adult
It’s best to consult a doctor and get an accurate diagnosis.
The diagnosis process starts with a complete analysis of your medical history and physical exam. Your doctor may use various tests to determine if a physical illness is the cause of the symptoms.
Suppose a person shows no physical signs of illness. In that case, a mental health professional trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, will use interview and assessment tools to evaluate them for PTSD or other psychiatric conditions.
Early intervention is critical for managing and potentially preventing PTSD. But unfortunately, it can take up to two years or more for people exhibiting symptoms to get a diagnosis.
Why is that?
Why Does PTSD Go Unnoticed for Months or Years?
One of the reasons for that is avoidance.
The disorder forces people to ignore reminders of the trauma. They don’t even want to think about it, let alone go for treatment. Thus, the intensity of the symptoms grows unhindered to the point where it cannot be ignored or shunned anymore.
People suffering may wrongly conclude that the symptoms are of these other mental health problems they have, like depression and anxiety, unaware of the fact that all of it is the result of PTSD. Even therapists who aren’t explicitly trained to ask about trauma may struggle to identify PTSD as the root issue in a patient.
There’s also the stigma against people with mental illness that makes them stop in their tracks and think over and over about whether to go for treatment.
All of these reasons contribute to the condition growing unhindered to a point when the road to recovery becomes much more complicated than needed.
So, if you suffer from the symptoms mentioned above and have gone through a traumatic event, you must consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Psychotherapy involves talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health providers.
By talking, you learn to identify your moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and the mental health professional helps you learn how to respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
There are many types of psychotherapy. These include:
- Cognitive therapy – This talk therapy can help you identify negative thought patterns preventing progress, such as debilitating self-beliefs and fear of traumatic experiences. Cognitive therapy is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy to treat PTSD.
- Exposure therapy – This therapy helps you deal with flashbacks by allowing you to confront situations and memories that scare you in a safe environment. One way of doing it is using virtual reality tech.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements. The doctor will tell you to recall the traumatic event, and then they will move their finger rapidly from side to side, asking you to follow the movement with your eyes. The method has been proven to be effective in helping people control symptoms.
There are various types of medications used to treat PTSD. These include –
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – This medication can alleviate certain symptoms of PTSD by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Increasing serotonin levels can potentially benefit individuals with mood, anxiety, and sleep symptoms.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – SNRIs increase norepinephrine levels, helping you concentrate and reducing depression.
- Alpha-1 blockers – These medications are primarily prescribed to help improve sleep and reduce nightmares but may also help improve other PTSD symptoms.
- Anti-Anxiety medication – This is prescribed to help people manage symptoms of anxiety. These medications increase the amount of GABA, an inhibitory receptor, that causes people to feel more relaxed, sedated, and sleepy.
- Mood stabilizers – Mood stabilizers may be given to people with PTSD if other first-line treatments don’t work or don’t help enough. They work to control mood and keep emotions in check.
Medications can help you stop thinking about and reacting to what happened, including having nightmares and flashbacks. They can also help you have a more positive outlook on life.
You and your doctor will need to work together to determine the best medicine for your symptoms and situation with the fewest side effects. In a few weeks, your mood and other symptoms may improve.
If you experience side effects after taking medications, inform your doctor.
Side effects to look out for –
|SSRIs||SNRIs||Anti-Anxiety Medications||Alpha-1 Blockers||Mood Stabilizers|
|Decreased appetite||Dry mouth||Blurred vision||Fatigue||Diarrhea|
|Drowsiness||Problems sleeping||Fatigue||Muscle pain||Headache|
|Dry mouth||Sexual problems||Headaches||Runny nose||Nausea|
|Insomnia||Sweating||Memory problems||Vision changes||Rapid heartbeat|
|Sexual side effects|
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a technique used in treating PTSD and involves stimulating specific portions of the brain through electromagnetic induction.
Currently, high-frequency TMS applied to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is approved for treating major depressive disorder (MDD) in patients who have failed at least one medication trial.
The most common side effects are headache and scalp pain, which can be treated with mild analgesics. Seizures are rare side effects and are usually due to predisposing factors.
Studies have been done to assess the overall efficacy of TMS, and they suggest that TMS therapy is an effective treatment in PTSD patients.
However, the sample sizes of those studies were small. Hence, more research should be done with larger sample sizes to test the efficacy of TMS in treating PTSD.
Overall, TMS is a relatively safe treatment. You can try it out if other treatment options don’t work for you.
Currently, TMS is only FDA- approved to treat refractory depression, but it can potentially treat many other conditions like PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But for these conditions, FDA approval is pending.
Can You Cope with PTSD On Your Own?
If you suffer from PTSD symptoms, dealing with it on your own isn’t recommended. PTSD affects people differently. Hence, if you see a coping strategy online that worked for someone else and decide to try it without going to a doctor, it may not work for you.
There are various types of PTSD like, normal stress response, acute stress disorder, dissociative PTSD, uncomplicated PTSD, complex PTSD, and comorbid PTSD. And some treatment options and coping tactics work best with some types but not others.
This is why it’s essential first to get an accurate diagnosis and then get into a professionally developed treatment plan.
You can cope with PTSD on your own, but the coping strategies will work best in unison with your doctor-recommended treatment plan.
Here are some coping strategies that are proven to be effective –
Research studies have shown mindfulness-based treatments for PTSD to be effective in reducing avoidance and self-blame in people diagnosed with the disorder.
Finding an enjoyable physical activity you can perform regularly can help you reduce stress levels and cope with symptoms.
Some physical activities you can try are strength training in the gym, running, walking, bike riding, team sports, and yoga.
Find The Creative Outlet
You can draw, paint, write, dance, or make music to express complex emotions and memories. Creative expression can be beneficial, especially for those who need help navigating traumatic experiences.
However, to get the most benefit out of your creative expression, it’s best to take the help of credentialed mental health professionals to guide you through the process.
Look for a Support System
Research has found that finding social support can be a significant factor in helping people overcome the adverse effects of a traumatic event and PTSD.
Having someone you trust, someone you can talk to, can be helpful for working through stressful situations or for emotional validation.
What Can You Expect on Your Road to Recovery?
If you get diagnosed with PTSD in its early stages, your recovery will likely be much smoother. However, if the diagnosis comes late, it won’t be easy. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get better and start living a normal life.
If you diligently follow the treatment plan that your doctor prescribes, set up a coping strategy, and have a support system around you, you have a high chance of getting rid of PTSD.
Some people may not be able to shed their symptoms completely, but life for them would be much better with treatment.
Symptoms can improve, normal functioning can be almost entirely restored, and relationships with loved ones can be repaired.
Here’s what Trevor Smith, a contributor at The Mighty who was diagnosed with Depression and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, says about PTSD recovery:
“The higher you get on a mountain, the better the views, and the more encouraged you become, but recovery is not about getting to the top. It’s about sitting down and looking at the vast view and enjoying a decrease in symptoms, a better knowing of yourself and practicing strategies.”
Why Do Some Develop PTSD While Others Don’t?
About 5 out of every 100 adults in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year. And an estimated 70% of U.S. adults have gone through a traumatic event in their lifetime.
So, most people who experience dangerous events don’t develop PTSD. The reason is some people are prone to the many risk factors that play a significant part.
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of PTSD are
- Exposure to dangerous events or traumas.
- Getting hurt or seeing others get hurt or killed.
- Childhood trauma.
- An existing feeling of horror, helplessness, or extreme fear.
- Not having enough social support after the event.
- Dealing with excess stress after a traumatic event like the unexpected death of a loved one or the loss of a job or home.
- Having a personal or family history of mental illness or substance abuse.
Can You Prevent PTSD?
Whether you can or cannot prevent PTSD depends on how well you deal with and handle your emotional response after experiencing a traumatic event.
This is easier said than done, as dealing with your emotional response alone can be challenging. That’s why you need someone to support you.
People exposed to a traumatic event may be unable to stop thinking about what’s happened. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and guilt — are all common reactions to stress.
However, most people get over these reactions and do not develop long-term post-traumatic stress disorder by getting timely help and support.
This support prevents normal stress reactions from spiraling out of control and developing into PTSD.
Factors that lower the likelihood of developing PTSD include:
- Seeking out support from friends, family, or support groups
- Coming to terms with one’s actions in response to a traumatic event
- Developing a coping strategy
- Preparing oneself to respond to upsetting events as they occur, despite feeling fear
How are Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD different?
After a dangerous event, it’s normal to feel some anxiety symptoms, but they usually go away after a few weeks. This is known as Acute Stress Disorder. When symptoms last for weeks and keep coming back, it may be PTSD.
Can emotional abuse cause PTSD?
Yes, and since emotional abuse often happens repeatedly, PTSD caused by abuse may be different and be called “complex PTSD.” A person with complex PTSD may relieve a pattern of abuse, neglect, and trauma that keeps happening repeatedly.
Can PTSD cause hallucinations?
Many veterans with PTSD report having hallucinations or false beliefs. So yes, PTSD can cause hallucinations and impair your sense of reality.
Can PTSD cause Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are more likely to happen to older people with PTSD.