Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t have to be an isolating experience.
When there is understanding, support and appropriate treatment, recovery is possible.
Recognizing the symptoms of PTSD is important. Seeking professional help and encouraging community advocacy for better access to mental health services can also help. These are some of the steps we can all take to improve outcomes for people with PTSD, their families and those close to them.
Who Can Develop PTSD?
There’s a common misconception that PTSD only affects combat veterans. The reality is quite different. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, like a natural disaster, physical assault, domestic violence, or even a car accident, can go on to develop PTSD.
Simply put, PTSD is your brain struggling to make sense of a frightening or violent experience.
This type of post-traumatic stress response is not a respecter of a person’s age, race, social or educational status. It directly affects nearly 9 million people in the U.S. each year.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Since the development of PTSD is not exclusive to any particular type of trauma, the symptoms can vary, but most commonly include:
- Nightmares or flashbacks that may vividly recall the traumatic event leading to distressing emotions or even physical sensations.
- Avoidance behaviors, where you try to avoid people, places or situations that remind you of the trauma.
- Increased irritability, anger or difficulty concentrating, leading to challenges at home, work or school.
- Hyperarousal or being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping or feeling a constant sense of unease.
- Increased alertness, also known as hypervigilance, which can result in increased anxiety, persistent worrying or difficulty sleeping.
- Persistent feelings of guilt, shame or self-blame, even when you are not at fault.
Experiencing any of these symptoms can significantly impact your mental and physical well-being. They can also affect your daily activities, relationships and diminish your overall quality of life.
Most people experience onset of symptoms within three months of a traumatic event, although for some it can be years before symptoms emerge.
Who Can Get PTSD?
There is no age limit on PTSD, so it can also affect children and adolescents. The way it presents can be unique to these age groups, though.
Very young children might have trouble articulating their experiences, but there can be noticeable changes in their behavior, mood or academic performance. You may even see milestone regression in some children. In extreme cases, some children may stop talking entirely.
Adolescents may exhibit dramatic shifts in their social behaviors, friend groups or stop taking part in hobbies and interests.
Recognizing the symptoms or spotting changes in behavior is essential. It can help you – or a loved one – get early intervention from a professional mental health provider, which is often the first step towards recovery. Without treatment, the effects of PTSD can continue indefinitely.
Treatment Options and Accessibility
Early diagnosis and intervention are key to effectively managing PTSD symptoms.
Most treatment plans for PTSD include a range of therapeutic approaches. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and talk therapy are commonly used for successfully addressing PTSD.
For some, their tailored treatment plan might include medication.
Everyone’s treatment plan will look different because what works for one person may not be right for another.
However, accessing treatment can sometimes be challenging. Factors like location, cost and even stigma around PTSD often prevents people from seeking the help they need. It’s important we continue to advocate for improved accessibility and affordability of mental health services.
Community resources are available if you’re seeking help for PTSD or trying to support a loved one:
- Therapy and psychiatry have been shown to support individuals with PTSD, helping to reduce triggers over time and improve quality of life.
- Local support groups like those offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offer opportunities to build relationships and find support in a community of individuals who face similar life experiences.
- Legitimate websites like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychological Association (APA) can provide valuable information. They can also direct you to other resources.
- Online platforms like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) also provide support forums, self-help strategies, and educational materials.
- There are also resources available to specialty groups like military veterans. The Veterans’ Administration (VA) offers comprehensive assistance, including specialized PTSD treatment programs, to support veterans and their families.
How Can You Help Someone with PTSD?
Because PTSD doesn’t just affect the individual, caregivers play a vital role in supporting their loved ones with PTSD. It’s crucial as a caregiver to educate yourself about the disorder and its effects. This also improves the whole family’s mental health literacy.
Emotional support is one of the most valuable contributions caregivers can offer. Creating a safe space for someone to express their emotions and actively listening without judgment can make a significant difference.
Encourage your loved one to seek out professional help and offer them assistance with finding suitable therapists. If it’s appropriate, you may even consider attending appointments together.
Each of us can play a part in supporting those affected, whether it’s through empathetic listening, offering support, advocating for better mental health services, or promoting general mental health literacy in our families and communities.
People can and do get better. With the right help and support, recovery from PTSD is possible.
It may be tough, but with timely intervention, appropriate treatment, and compassionate support, individuals with PTSD can regain control of their lives.
Natacha Nicholas is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for Elite DNA Behavioral Health who works with people to heal from all types of traumatic stressors. Celebrating 10 years in business, Elite DNA Behavioral Health is a comprehensive behavioral and mental health service provider with more than 30 locations across Florida. For more information, visit EliteDNA.com.