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May 3, 2023

Mental Health

Mental Health

Understanding PTSD: Symptoms, Treatment, and Support

Take away points:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.
  • Symptoms include intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, and hyperarousal.
  • While anyone can develop PTSD, certain demographics, such as Black Americans and Hispanic Americans, may be at increased risk.
  • Treatment options include therapy, medication, and self-care practices.
  • Support from friends and family can also be helpful in managing symptoms of PTSD.
  • Seeking help for PTSD is a sign of strength, and with the right treatment and support, it's possible to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

What is PTSD

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, sexual or physical assault, combat, or a serious accident.

PTSD can cause a range of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional numbness. People with PTSD may also avoid things that remind them of the trauma and may feel anxious, irritable, or on edge. These symptoms can be severe and can interfere with a person's daily life, relationships, and ability to function.

Various therapies are available for treating PTSD, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and medication. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, it's important to seek professional help.

The Statistics

  • Approximately 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.
  • 8% of men and 20% of women who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
  • PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood. About 7-8% of the general population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • Military service members are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11–20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.
  • PTSD can also occur in first responders, such as firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel, who are exposed to traumatic events in the course of their work.
  • PTSD can have a significant impact on a person's mental and physical health. People with PTSD are at higher risk for other mental health conditions, such as depression and substance abuse, and physical health problems, such as heart disease and chronic pain.

Keep in mind that while these statistics can help us understand the prevalence of PTSD, each person's experience is unique.

PTSD and Suicide

Studies have estimated that between 8% and 25% of individuals with PTSD have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the suicide rate among veterans with PTSD was 20 deaths per day, or one suicide every 72 minutes. However, it's important to note that not all individuals with PTSD are veterans, and the suicide rate among civilians with PTSD may differ.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are serious and should always be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek immediate help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into four categories: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and hyperarousal. Not everyone with PTSD will experience all of these symptoms, and the severity and duration of symptoms can vary. Here are some of the common symptoms:

  1. Intrusion: Intrusive symptoms are often characterized by unwanted and distressing memories, flashbacks, or nightmares related to the traumatic event. These symptoms can be triggered by reminders of the trauma, and can cause intense emotional or physical reactions, including sweating or heart palpitations.
  2. Avoidance: Avoidance symptoms involve avoiding people, places, or situations that may trigger memories of the trauma. This can include avoiding certain conversations, social situations, or even thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event.
  3. Negative alterations in mood and cognition: This category of symptoms involves changes in a person's mood, thoughts, and beliefs about themselves and the world around them. This can include feelings of guilt or shame, a loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable, and difficulty remembering important details about the traumatic event.
  4. Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal symptoms are often characterized by feeling on edge, easily startled, and irritable. People with PTSD may also have trouble sleeping, have difficulty concentrating, and experience hypervigilance, which is an exaggerated state of alertness and awareness of potential danger.

Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, and may not appear until months or even years after the traumatic event. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it's important to seek professional help from a mental health provider.

Who is at higher risk of developing PTSD?

Certain demographics or races may be more likely to develop PTSD in the United States, although the reasons for these differences are complex and not fully understood.

For example, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to experience trauma than Caucasian Americans, and as a result, may be more likely to develop PTSD. Black Americans are also more likely to experience trauma related to racism and discrimination, which can increase their risk of developing PTSD.

In addition, certain groups may be more vulnerable to experiencing trauma and developing PTSD due to social and economic factors such as poverty, exposure to violence, and lack of access to mental health care. This includes refugees and immigrants, people who have experienced military combat, and people who have experienced sexual assault.

It's important to note, however, that PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced trauma, regardless of race or ethnicity.

What should I do if I have PTSD?

Here are some steps you can take to get help:

  • Talk to your primary care doctor: Your primary care doctor can assess your symptoms, provide referrals to mental health professionals, and prescribe medication if needed.
  • Seek therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based therapies have been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. A therapist can help you learn coping skills, process your trauma, and develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.
  • Join a support group: Talking to others who have experienced similar traumas can be helpful in coping with PTSD. Many communities offer support groups specifically for people with PTSD.
  • Practice self-care: Self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, and mindfulness can help manage symptoms of PTSD. It's important to make time for activities that you enjoy and that help you relax.
  • Avoid substance use: Substance use can worsen symptoms of PTSD and can make it harder to cope. If you are struggling with substance use, it's important to seek help from a mental health or substance use professional.

Seeking help for PTSD is a sign of strength, and with the right treatment and support, it's possible to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

What if I think a family member of friend has PTSD?

If you think a friend or family member has PTSD, there are several things you can do to support them:

  • Encourage them to seek professional help: Let your friend or family member know that there is no shame in seeking help for PTSD. Offer to help them find a mental health provider or accompany them to their appointments.
  • Listen without judgment: If your friend or family member wants to talk about their experience, listen to them without judgment. Avoid giving advice or trying to "fix" their problems, but instead, offer empathy and validation for their feelings.
  • Help them create a safe environment: People with PTSD may feel unsafe or on edge. Help your friend or family member create a safe environment by removing triggers and offering support.
  • Offer practical support: People with PTSD may have trouble with day-to-day tasks. Offer practical support by helping with household chores, running errands, or providing meals.
  • Educate yourself about PTSD: Educate yourself about PTSD and its symptoms. This will help you understand what your friend or family member is going through and how you can best support them.

Remember, it's important to respect your friend or family member's privacy and boundaries. Don't pressure them to talk about their experience or seek help if they're not ready. Offer your support and let them know that you're there for them when they're ready.

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