PTSD Awareness Day
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder is a term most Americans have, for better or worse, become more familiar with in recent years. Today, June 27, is PTSD Awareness Day. While the psychological condition is usually spoken in reference to veterans, the incidence of PTSD is hardly concentrated to the veteran population. As the name implies, anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic even may be at risk for developing PTSD. Read ahead to learn more about the disorder, its history and how it can be managed.
PTSD is listed as being “very common” with over 3 million cases in the United States each year. This mental health condition is triggered by a terrifying event, which can be experienced firsthand, or witnessed. This can include scenarios outside of military combat such as, physical or sexual assault, car accidents, animal attacks, severe injury, armed robbery, and more. Generally, symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety or even panic attacks. Any of these symptoms, alone or combined together, can cause significant difficulties in going about daily life. They are most debilitating in social or work situations, personal relationships may also suffer as a result.
PTSD Symptoms are generally grouped into 4 types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reaction.
- Intrusive memories: these are most easily referred to as flashbacks. They are recurrent and unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event. This can also include nightmares or stress when reminded of something related to the memory.
- Avoidance: of places, activities or people which remind you of the trauma
- Negative change in thinking and mood: hopelessness, numbness, detachment, difficulty in maintaining close relationships and memory problems.
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions: easily scared, self-destructive behavior, always being on guard, trouble sleeping and concentrating.
One characteristic which makes PTSD unique is the fact that all demographics are at risk. There are also certain factors which can make an individual more likely to develop PTSD after trauma. These risk factors include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, lacking a strong support system and having a history of mental illness in the family. If left untreated, PTSD can also manifest anxiety, depression, substance abuse, isolation, self-harm, and even suicide.
The History of PTSD
Contrary to what many might believe, PTSD is not a new phenomenon. The history of how this condition has been viewed and treated is tied deeply to the military. During the Civil War, thousands of veterans were merely admitted to insane asylums. After World War I, there were some advances made in treatment, largely due to the overwhelming number of veterans who returned traumatized. Doctors observed and developed several diagnoses to classify intense feeling of fear, hopelessness, and psychiatric impairment. At this point in our history, the condition was euphemistically referred to as “shell shock.” The name was derived from the inaccurate belief that it was the explosive shocks of artillery explosions that were damaging nerves, not the combat-related trauma itself. When World War II came, the veterans returning home with trauma were diagnosed with “combat exhaustion” or “combat fatigue.” It wasn’t until the Vietnam War, that the psychiatric community began having a more comprehensive discussion of PTSD. Finally, in 1980 the third edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published with PTSD as a new diagnosis.
It is important to note that if you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD, professional help may be needed. This is especially true in cases where PTSD has produced further psychiatric issues such as: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts and attempts. However, there are a number of ways to manage PTSD without medications, when appropriate.
- Mindfulness meditation – This form of relaxation technique has been proven to reduce depressive moods and boost self-perception. There are multiple methods of mindfulness mediation such as: mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based exposure therapy, meditation-relaxation, and mantrum repetition practice. Each one varies and may be applied on a case-by-case basis, according to needs.
- Exercise – Many PTSD sufferers report finding a physical activity which they enjoy helps them perform better in regular, everyday situations. Regular exercise has also been proven to reduce stress levels and cope with symptoms.
- Art Therapy – This form of therapy has been gaining popularity in recent years. Led by a specialist, people who have experienced trauma are instructed to externalize their emotions and learn to cope through a variety of art mediums, such as painting or sculpture.
- Pets for PTSD – Adopting a pet specifically for the purpose of helping people cope with trauma is another popular method. These pets are often trained to specifically recognize and prevent the onset of PTSD symptoms. Spending as little as one week with a specially trained dog can improve PTSD symptoms by 82 percent.
- Journaling – Expressive writing has been found to improve both physical and psychological health for people with a number of physical and mental health conditions. Psychologically, writing helps people cope with PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety and anger. Physically, the effects are seen reducing body tension and restored focus.
If you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD, it is important to look into treatment methods, particularly by a psychiatric professional. Often, those suffering might be reluctant to seek professional help. Never suggest professional help during an argument or a flashback episode. A great beginner’s resource is ptsdalliance.com, a website that lists local directories of psychiatric professionals and support groups.