Weekly Wellness: Mental Health Month focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
COLUMBIA - I think many of us immediately think of the military when we hear someone referring to PTSD. We have heard this term used with so many returning from war (and understandably so). However, it's not just our soldiers who can experience PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.
Anyone who was a victim, witnessed or has been exposed to a life-threatening situation and/or survivors of violent acts, such as domestic violence, rape, sexual, physical and/or verbal abuse or physical attacks can experience PTSD.
Survivors of unexpected dangerous events, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack can experience PTSD.
Combat veterans or civilians exposed to war and/or emergency responders who help victims during traumatic events can experience PTSD.
Children who are neglected and/or abused (physically, sexually or verbally) can experience PTSD.
PTSD is a real problem and affects over 8.5 million American adults (3.5% of the adult population) in any given year.
For many people, symptoms begin almost immediately following the trauma that was experienced. For others, the symptoms may not begin or may not become a problem until years later. Symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Repeatedly thinking about the trauma (i.e. nightmares or flashbacks)
- Being constantly alert or on guard (i.e. easily startled or angered, irritable or anxious and preoccupied with staying safe)
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Physical problems (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, rapid breathing, muscle tension or, headaches, rapid heart rate)
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma (i.e. avoiding the people, places associated with the experience)
- Feeling emotionally numb, detached from friends and family, and lose interest in activities
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of mistrust
- Problems in daily living (i.e. problems functioning on the job, at school, or in social situations)
- Substance abuse
- Relationship problems (i.e.problems with intimacy, or feeling detached from family and friends)
- Suicidal thoughts
PTSD can be treated with success. Treatment and support are critical to recovery. The following treatments are used to successfully treat PTSD:
Psychotherapy with a mental health professional can help immensely. There are different types of therapy that can be used:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: helps you change the thought patterns that keep you from overcoming your anxiety.
Exposure Therapy: helps you to confront the memories and situations that cause your distress.
Cognitive Processing Therapy: helps you process your emotions about the traumatic event and learn how to challenge your thinking patterns.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: focuses on identifying current life situations that set off traumatic memories and worsen PTSD symptoms.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: your mental health professional will lead you through an activity where you think about the trauma while the therapist waves a hand or baton in front of you. You follow the movements with your eyes. This helps your brain process your memories and reduce your negative feelings about the memories.
Couples Counseling & Family Therapy: helps couples and family members understand each other.
Other forms of treatment include medications (under the supervision of a physician) and support groups.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one might be experiencing PTSD, you are not alone. Please contact a physician or mental health professional for assistance.