Traumatic experiences aren’t rare. The National Center for PTSD, which is part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, conducts research on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. They estimate that half of Americans have experienced a traumatic event. Men who have experienced a traumatic event have a 1 in 10 chance of developing PTSD, and women have a 1 in 5 chance of doing so. If you have experienced trauma, you should know that you are not alone and that there is treatment for PTSD available.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences a traumatic experience such as a life-threatening event, military combat, sexual assault, a car accident or natural disaster. Feeling shaken, stressed or upset by these events is normal. However, when the feelings continue for months after the event has occurred or if the feelings prevent you from continuing to live your life, you may have PTSD.
Who is at risk for PTSD?
PTSD can happen to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event or has witnessed a traumatic event happen to someone else. Veterans and civilians alike can experience traumatic events that can result in a diagnosis of PTSD. A first-responder who witnesses a terrorist attack or natural disaster can develop PTSD in the same way that victims of the attack or disaster can.
Certain experiences can make you more likely to develop PTSD. This includes very intense or long-lasting trauma, sustaining an injury during a traumatic event or if you experience a strong reaction during the event, like shaking, vomiting or dissociating from your surroundings.
Developing PTSD is also more common for people who have been the victim of sexual assault or those who have experienced combat.
Like any other mental health condition, PTSD can affect anyone.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Everyone experiences symptoms of PTSD differently. Below are the four main symptoms of PTSD.
1. Reliving the event, having flashbacks or nightmares.
After a traumatic event, flashbacks, or unwelcome memories can occur. These flashbacks feel real and can be scary. It might seem like you are experiencing the event all over again. Nightmares are also common. These flashbacks or nightmares can be triggered by things that seem to be unrelated to the traumatic event. Seeing something on the news or hearing a loud noise can trigger a flashback in those who are struggling with symptoms of PTSD.
2. Avoiding things that make you think about the event.
People or situations can remind you of the event, and if you are struggling with PTSD, you might feel the need to avoid anything that reminds you about your experience including places that are similar to where the event took place or large crowds. Alternatively, you might fill your time and keep busy so you don’t have to think about the event at all.
3. Having more negative thoughts or feelings than you did before.
After experiencing a traumatic event, feeling happiness or experiencing positive emotions can become difficult. It’s common to lose interest in the things you used to enjoy and to avoid the people you used to spend time with. You may feel guilt or shame and wish that you had done something different to change or prevent what has happened to you.
4. Feeling anxious, jittery or on-edge.
If you are finding it difficult to relax, this is called hyperarousal. Hyperarousal can make it difficult to sleep or concentrate and cause you to constantly feel like you need to be alert and watchful. You may be easily startled, angered or irritated. Developing unhealthy habits like smoking or abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with hyperarousal is common.
Can PTSD be treated?
PTSD is treatable, and it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve experienced the traumatic event. You can get treatment for PTSD at any time and change your life.
Many people who struggle with PTSD have a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse and may also struggle with thoughts of self-harm or harming others. PTSD treatment can address these co-occurring disorders so that you can move on and get your life back.
When PTSD goes untreated, it can get worse. Unfortunately, symptoms of PTSD don’t get better over time. This is why it’s important to seek treatment so that you can address your symptoms and find healing.
If you decide to seek treatment for PTSD, your doctor or therapist will begin treatment by asking you about your symptoms and will discuss what your options are. Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most common and highly recommended treatment options for PTSD.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is available at our counseling centers, is a type of trauma-focused psychotherapy that can help you learn to cope with the memories, thoughts and feelings associated with your traumatic experiences. During EMDR, a therapist will ask you to think about a memory of the traumatic event and to identify the feelings, emotions and thoughts you are experiencing. While you recall the memory, the therapist will ask you to focus on a sound (like a beep) or movement (like his/her finger moving back and forth). When the memory is less upsetting, the therapist will work with you on introducing a positive thought.
How can I find help for PTSD?
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of PTSD, start by taking our free one-minute trauma assessment. Answering “yes” to three or more of these questions could mean you have PTSD. Each of our assessments is reviewed by a psychologist at our counseling centers who can help you understand your symptoms and will discuss with you what your treatment options are.
The most important thing to know is that you are not alone, and you can begin treatment at any time. If you’re ready to change your life for the better, contact one of our counseling centers. We have locations throughout Central Florida, in Kissimmee, Longwood and St. Cloud. We also provide behavioral health services at our counseling center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Don’t wait to begin treatment. Find the help you need today.