Often we think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as it relates to soldiers in combat. (According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in the most recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD any given year.) But PTSD isn’t only a remnant from war; the condition can wage a battle within anyone, at any age as a result of a recent or past traumatic event.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about seven to eight percent of the population will have PTSD during their lifetime. Roughly eight million adults will suffer from it during a given year. From a car accident or natural disaster (like a hurricane), to a violent episode experienced by an individual or a large assembly (like a school shooting, or terrorist attack), the effects of a devastating occurrence can linger for years, prompting a strong, negative emotional and/or physical reaction. When a painful memory is “triggered” – often, by a certain noise (like fireworks, or a car backfiring), the sight or sound of water, or a movie/TV show that depicts a similar situation that was experienced, the recollection is sometimes so vivid, that it’s like reliving the original trauma again.
Responses to triggered painful memories can include aggression or anger; anxiousness or fear; avoiding anything that reminds one of the original trauma; breathing difficulties; depression (including feelings of dread, loss of interest, numbness, sadness, or withdrawal); digestive issues; flashbacks; panic; profuse sweating; sleep issues (from insomnia and too much sleep, to nightmares); or suicidal thoughts. Younger children who experience PTSD can grow fearful if their parent aren’t nearby. Middle school-aged kids might act out, or be irritable (in addition to some of the same reactions adults may exhibit).
Not everyone who experiences trauma will get PTSD, but here are some things to remember about the disorder:
- PTSD is not a sign of weakness.
- Someone suffering from PTSD is not alone.
- Talk to a close friend or family member for initial support.
- See your doctor (or pediatrician, if it’s your child) to provide professional guidance and recommend a board certified therapist in your local area.
- If you’re a veteran with PTSD, seek out veterans’ resources plus fellow soldiers that share and shoulder the same experiences. Call the Veteran’s Crisis Line (also the National Suicide Prevention Hotline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); press 1 (text 838255).
- Treating PTSD: One-on-one counseling with a combination of cognitive therapy to change thinking patterns; exposure therapy to face frightening situations, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which uses guided eye movements to help process traumatic events are helpful. Group therapy and medication can also be effective.
Regain control if you’re living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Seek medical help if you recognize the symptoms.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano