Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can cause significant disruption in daily life. The symptoms of PTSD can impact personal relationships, family dynamics, work performance, and academic achievement. While many people associate PTSD with the psychological symptoms combat veterans experience when returning from a war zone, evidence shows that any stressful event or series of stressful events can cause PTSD.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) identifies the following common causes of PTSD:
- Experiencing or witnessing violence
- Experiencing or witnessing war/living in a war zone
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Natural disasters
- Car accidents
- Major illness
- Loss of a loved one
- PTSD diagnosis in the past year (12-month prevalence):
- Total: 4.7%
- By Gender:
- Males: 3.2%
- Females: 6.1%
- By Age:
- 18-29: 5.4%
- 30-44: 5.7%%
- 45-64: 4.7%
- 65+: 2.2%
- PTSD diagnosis at any time (lifetime prevalence):
- Total: 6.1%
- By Gender:
- Males: 4.1%
- Females: 8.0%
- By Age:
- 18-29: 6.6%
- 30-44: 7.1%
- 45-64: 6.6%
- 65+: 3.2%
Those statistics make it clear: PTSD affects the lives of millions of people every year. Let’s attach real numbers to those percentages to drive the point home. The first figure – 4.7% of adults in the U.S. – works out to roughly 12 million people. That means it’s likely you know someone with PTSD. It might also mean you’re asking yourself this question:
How can I tell if a friend or loved one has PTSD?
The knowledgeable, compassionate staff at Crownview Psychiatric Institute can help you answer that question.
How Does PTSD Affect People?
PTSD can manifest in many ways. It can develop immediately after a traumatic event. It can also develop after weeks, months, or years.
Because every person is different, and every brain responds to trauma in different ways. There is no one way for the brain to process trauma. Some people experience repressed memories, which is how the brain protects itself from reexperiencing the initial traumatic event. Those repressed memories may not reappear until they’re triggered by something related to the traumatic event, such as a specific smell or sound, which causes the symptoms of PTSD to appear. In other cases, the brain does not repress traumatic memories, and the symptoms of PTSD appear almost immediately.
What are the Signs of PTSD?
People with PTSD often experience challenges participating in the basic activities of daily. Challenges can include difficulty paying attention in school, problems focusing on tasks at work, strained relationships with family or friends, neglecting personal hygiene, or abandoning healthy habits like eating a balanced diet and exercising every day. It’s also common for people with PTSD to attempt to manage difficult or uncomfortable symptoms with alcohol or drug use, which is a phenomenon known as self-medication. In some cases, people with PTSD may engage in self-harm or suicidal behavior, up to and including attempting suicide.
Mental health experts define four types of PTSD symptoms:
- Intrusive memories
- Avoidance behaviors
- Changes in thought/mood
- Changes in physical/emotional reactions
We’ll explain each of these types of symptoms now, beginning with intrusive memories.
Intrusive memories, also known as flashbacks, are unpleasant memories that appear in the mind of a person with PTSD. These memories are unwanted and can disrupt daily function. Intrusive memories/flashbacks may include:
- Recurring memories of the event
- Reliving the trauma as if the event is still happening
- Disturbing nightmares
- Difficulties sleeping
- Adverse physical reactions to memories of the event
Now let’s look at the next symptom: avoidance.
Avoidance behavior is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when a person with PTSD goes to extreme lengths and spend a disproportionate amount of energy to avoid anything that reminds them of or anything that remotely resembles past traumatic events.
Avoidance may look like:
- Trying not to think about the event or acting like it never happened
- Refusing to go to certain places or interact with certain people that remind you of the event
- Leaving a situation due to extreme anxiety
Everyone avoids things they don’t like, sometimes. That’s typical behavior. In the context of PTSD, however, avoidance is extreme, and can impair participation in the basic activities of daily life.
Changes in Thought/Mood
A person with PTSD often develops negative patterns of thinking and feeling. These patterns can take on various forms, depending on the individual, the nature of the trauma, and their current circumstances. Examples of negative patterns of thinking and feeling associated with PTSD include:
- Feeling depressed about the future and the world
- Prolonged sense of hopelessness
- Detaching from social life and other once-enjoyable activities
- Difficulty feeling happy
- Difficulty feeling any positive emotions
- Prolonged emotional numbness
We recognize that almost everyone experiences dark and/or negative thoughts. Everyone also has bad moods, on occasion. However, for a person with PTSD, these moods and patterns of thought are persistent, disruptive, and overwhelming. In most cases, a person without PTSD can cope with negative thoughts and moods and return to balance quickly, whereas a person with PTSD – especially if it’s untreated – may become overwhelmed by their negative thoughts and moods.
Changes in Emotional and Physical Reactions
In many cases, people with PTSD develop atypical emotional and physical reactions to common external stimuli. For instance, a person with PTSD may:
Get startled or scared very easily
- Feel like they’re constantly on guard for new dangers or threats
- Engage in risky, destructive behavior such as excessive drinking, fighting, or sexual activity
- Have angry outbursts/tantrums
- Feel an overwhelming sense of shame or embarrassment
If you or someone you love shows any of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, the best thing to do is arrange a full biopsychosocial evaluation with a licensed, qualified, mental health professional experienced in working with anxiety disorders. A mental health professional can arrive at an accurate diagnosis and make recommendations for appropriate treatment and support.
What Does PTSD Treatment Look Like?
Mental health professionals are trained to help individuals with PTSD manage their symptoms and formulate a treatment plan that promotes recovery and full, independent functioning. Treatment for PTSD include a combination of psychotherapy, community support, lifestyle changes, and medication, if needed.
We understand that people with PTSD might not want to talk about their trauma. However, it’s important to understand that talking about trauma in a therapeutic context is a well-documented, evidence-based path toward healing and recovery. Processing past trauma the with a trained, unbiased third party in a safe, professional setting can be lifechanging. Talking with a therapist can validate the emotions and experiences of a person with PTSD, and help them develop the coping skills and stress management tools necessary tools to create a new normal.
What Forms Can Therapy Take?
Therapy for PTSD depends on the unique needs of each individual. Treatment may include medication, psychotherapy, a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or inpatient treatment, which typically involves all of the above. Whatever the form of treatment or therapeutic modality, the goal of treatment is to target the core traumatic issue that caused the PTSD symptoms, and create a coping plan that helps restore balance and participate fully in all aspects of daily life.
What Does a Coping Plan Look Like?
Each personal coping plan is as unique as the individual it serves. Some people with PTSD need a robust plan for dealing with triggers, others need help dialing in their support network, while others need suggestions for how to practice self-care. Through exercise, meditation, or regular visits with a therapist, each individual finds what works best for them, and learns to stay present and calm in the face of overwhelming emotions and fears.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Contact our admissions team to learn how Crownview can help you or your loved one.