Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month
When it comes to different types of stress, most psychologists and counselors, like Dr. Michael Scheeringa with Psych Central, agree that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the worst. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as a disorder “that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” While feeling stress and anxiety is normal in these situations, those with PTSD continue to experience extreme stress and fear even after the event has passed and the individual is no longer in danger.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that PTSD is different than other types of stress and anxiety, both in its longevity and in how it manifests.
A PTSD diagnosis includes symptoms that are present for at least one month after the event has passed. These symptoms may not occur right away, and some people experience the onset of PTSD weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event itself. There are three main symptoms associated with PTSD:
- Re-experiencing the trauma—One of the most common symptoms of PTSD; this occurs through unwanted, troubling recollections, nightmares, and/or flashbacks.
- Avoidance of things that remind the individual of the trauma—Sometimes referred to as emotional numbness, this symptom is the intentional withdrawal from people, places, and activities that may remind the person of the traumatic event.
- Increased arousal—Those with PTSD may have difficulty sleeping, trouble with concentration and focus, feel constantly on edge, and be easily irritated and angered.
Anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event is at risk for PTSD. Numerous experiences can cause PTSD and some of the most common include combat, terror attack, natural disasters, abuse, assault, and sudden loss.
According to PTSD United, around 70 percent of adults experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Of these, about 20 percent develop PTSD. That means 44.7 million Americans have or have had PTSD, with roughly eight percent suffering from the disorder at any given time.
- Children: The National Center for PTSD estimates that 15-43 percent of girls and 14-43 percent of boys experience at least one traumatic event during their childhood and adolescent years. Of these children, 3-15 percent of the girls and 1-6 percent of the boys develop PTSD. The disorder appears correlated with the severity of the event, the parents’ reaction, and how close the child was to the trauma.
- Women: Women, overall, experience less traumatic events than men, yet they are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD. Fifty percent experience trauma, and of those women, 10 percent experience PTSD symptoms.
- Men: The experience of trauma for men is different than for women. Men are less likely to develop symptoms of PTSD and when they do, the symptoms are often less severe. Only four percent of men who experience trauma are diagnosed with the disorder.
- Military: When it comes to military personnel, the risk of developing PTSD increases. According to Veteran’s Affairs (VA), 10 to 18 percent of those deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq were diagnosed with PTSD after returning home. These veterans can have trouble adjusting to life at home and feel edgy or numb.
When it comes to finding help for PTSD, the most important thing to remember is that it is treatable. The course of treatment for two people may be very different. What works for one person may not work for another and it may take a few different approaches before finding the right one.
HelpGuide.org offers a step-by-step solution for veterans and others suffering through the symptoms of PTSD. By making a conscious effort to move the nervous system out of “war mode,” practicing relaxation skills, and managing the fears associated with PTSD, the symptoms begin to become less and less severe, eventually fading away.
The VA offers two main types of therapy for PTSD: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and prolonged exposure (PE). CBT is considered the most effective and involves learning how thoughts about a traumatic event cause certain reactions to occur, worsening PTSD symptoms. By replacing those specific thoughts, the reactions occur less, and the symptoms dissipate. Other treatments, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and certain medications may also be recommended.
The United States Senate has officially designated the month of June as PTSD Awareness Month. It’s a month dedicated to raise public awareness of PTSD and the treatments that are available. Through the VA’s “Learn, Connect, Share” program, those who are diagnosed with PTSD can learn about the disorder, be linked with resources, and host events to boost awareness. By focusing on education, outreach, and spreading the word about PTSD throughout the month, supporters can helps others overcome this severe, yet treatable, disorder.