Considering that 7.7 million people age 18 and over have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in America, it’s important to learn about what it is, how it affects the people who suffer from it, and what you can do if someone you care about is experiencing it. First, let’s look at what the disorder is and what causes it.
Fear is a natural part of our biology and our bodies have specific physical and mental reactions that are triggered by fear. In the days of early humans, spotting a tiger nearby might have caused your stomach to drop as if you were on a roller coaster, your heart to start racing, your senses to heighten. It’s the threat of bodily harm that causes these reactions, and people who experience trauma are all too familiar with being in the state of utter fear. PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder that can develop after witnessing a life-threatening situation. There are many types of situations that can trigger PTSD: a soldier in a combat zone; a hostage in a kidnapping situation; a firefighter or police officer helping citizens after a natural disaster or attack; a child in an abusive or neglectful home.
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PTSD Symptoms can Appear Quickly
Symptoms of PTSD can start showing within weeks after the traumatic experience (acute) and last for 3 months or longer (chronic), or only develop long after the experience (delayed onset usually exhibits around 6 months or longer after the event). Some typical symptoms include flashbacks where the person relives the trauma physically, nightmares, or generally frightening thoughts that interrupt regular activities and linger long past the fear of say, someone accidentally startling you. A person with PTSD may also exhibit avoidance symptoms, like evading an area where the trauma took place or that reminds them of the experience; strong guilt, depression, or anxiety; losing interest in what used to be enjoyable activities; or feelings of being disconnected emotionally from people or life in general.
We often associate PTSD with soldiers who have witnessed combat and the devastation of war, but anyone can experience a traumatic event that will result in developing PTSD. Mass violence is a huge culprit, with 67% of people who witness it developing PTSD—which is more than those who experience natural disasters or similarly events. About 7-8% of the US population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Think about that: in a room with 100 people, 7 or 8 of them will be deeply affected by this disorder, and that doesn’t even take into account how their families and friends are touched by it. PTSD is more common in women than in men, with about 10% of women developing it, compared to only 4% of men.
The symptoms of PTSD can be very serious and inhibit sufferers from being able to hold a job, attend school or college, or maintain healthy relationships with family members or friends. There are several therapeutic tactics that psychologists and therapists can use to treat this disruptive disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves the patient working with a therapist to change the thought patterns that are associated with the trauma—the goal being to change the behaviors of avoidance symptoms or reactions to the memory. Exposure therapy involves revisiting the thoughts, memories, and sometimes places where the trauma lives in order to confront the feelings of distress, helplessness, or guilt. There are other types of therapeutic treatments associated with treating those who suffer from PTSD, as well as relief sources like support groups, medication, volunteering, and avoiding stimulants or triggers, like caffeine, drugs, and alcohol.
You may be familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder—either having experienced it yourself or seen a family or friend experience it—and the damage can greatly affect one’s quality of life. If you’re interested in treating sufferers of PTSD, explore the option of becoming a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counseling psychologist and work to potentially make patients’ lives better.