Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) affects every area of life, relationships, physical health, success, career, and overall happiness.
If you’ve ever lashed out at loved ones, lost jobs, or pushed people away…It’s NOT your fault.
According to mental health professionals, PTSD is an emotional and physical reaction to a shocking or frightening event such as a violent assault, natural or human-caused disasters, an automobile accident, military combat, and other forms of violence.
Research has shown that people who work in high-stress jobs, like the military, first responders (e.g. police officers, firefighters), & healthcare workers, may be at an increased risk for developing PTSD. These jobs often involve exposure to traumatic events or situations that can trigger the development of PTSD.
About one-half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, but most do not develop PTSD.
The National Institute of Mental Health notes that most people will experience a “fight-or-flight” response during a traumatic event, but many people recover. Those who keep experiencing symptoms after the event are diagnosed with PTSD. These individuals may live in fear, or experience stress even when there is no evident danger.
Men and women who serve in the military and experience combat may develop PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 15% of veterans who served during the Vietnam War are currently diagnosed with PTSD, but an estimated 30% of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. About 12% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) Veterans have PTSD in a given year. These are only the reported cases—many people living with PTSD will do so in silence. (U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs- National Center for PTSD)
People with PTSD experience a wide range of symptoms including difficulty sleeping and nightmares, negative thoughts about self or the world, problems concentrating, and exaggerated startle responses. If left untreated, the disorder may affect all aspects of their lives — from intimate relationships to physical health.
Recognizing the early warning signs of PTSD is the first step toward overcoming the condition.
Signs of PTSD typically do not show up overnight. They often manifest gradually, with some symptoms acting as warning signs.
The most common signs of PTSD include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
Sometimes, when suffering from PTSD, it can feel like a dark tunnel and there’s no light at the end of it. It’s important to believe recovery is possible.
Treatment for PTSD can involve therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
There are four medications currently recommended to treat PTSD. Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine) are FDA-approved to treat PTSD. But Prozac (fluoxetine) and Effexor XR (venlafaxine) are also good options, even though they’re not officially approved for PTSD.
Other medications — such as Seroquel (quetiapine), Topamax (topiramate), and Minipress (prazosin) — are sometimes prescribed off-label to treat PTSD. Often, they’re used to target specific symptoms like nightmares or hypervigilance. But there is less evidence to support their use. (goodrx.com)
Along with medication, certain types of therapy have been helpful in treating PTSD including prolonged exposure, cognitive behavior, and eye movement desensitization therapy.
- Prolonged exposure therapy. People with PTSD often avoid memories related to the trauma they experienced. Prolonged exposure therapy aims to help them confront those memories in a safe and secure environment. (apa.org)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) CBT is strongly recommended for the treatment of PTSD. Therapists employing CBT encourage patients to re-evaluate their thinking patterns and assumptions in order to identify unhelpful patterns (often termed “distortions”) in thoughts, such as overgeneralizing bad outcomes, negative thinking, and always expecting catastrophic outcomes, to more balanced and effective thinking patterns. (apa.org)
- Eye movement desensitization Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a fairly new treatment for those suffering from PTSD. It involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling the traumatic event. The rapid eye movements are intended to create a similar effect to the way the brain processes memories and experiences while you’re sleeping. (apa.org) (National Center for PTSD)