When people think about trauma, and especially post-traumatic stress disorder, they often think about it in the context of military service members or veterans.
This may be because people often only hear about PTSD as it relates to veterans. And combat — which can include exposure to life-threatening situations, violence, fear, severe injury or death — has many events which can induce trauma and increase the risk of PTSD.
But while PTSD is a recognized effect of combat environments, anyone can experience trauma and develop PTSD. As we recognize PTSD Awareness Month in June, it is important to know how common trauma is, how childhood trauma especially is a risk factor for mental health conditions or substance use disorders, and what resources are available to help people who may experience PTSD.
According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some sort of traumatic event in their lifetime — more than 223 million people. Trauma can stem from a variety of events, for example, car accidents, war, childhood abuse and neglect, sexual abuse or violence, witnessing a death or violence, and natural disasters.
Remember, different people experience trauma differently, and an event that may not seem serious to one person may be highly traumatic to another.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that while most people who experience trauma may have short-term symptoms, the majority do not go on to develop PTSD. NIMH estimates that about 3.5% of Americans had PTSD in the past year, 8 to 9 million people, and females are almost three times more likely to experience PTSD than males.
Further, PTSD can occur as soon as a few months after an event, or up to decades later.
Symptoms of PTSD can take many forms, and a diagnosis requires consultation with a trained medical or mental health professional. Generally, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, symptoms of PTSD fall into a few recognized categories:
♦ Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
♦ Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
♦ Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is “not real.”
♦ Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by situations that resemble the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
Like any type of mental health condition, symptoms can vary from person to person, and even from day to day. But like all types of mental health conditions, PTSD can be treated, and individuals with PTSD can recover. Treatment for PTSD can include:
♦ Psychotherapy, such as cognitive processing therapy or group therapy
♦ Self-management strategies — such as self-soothing and mindfulness — are helpful to ground a person and bring him or her back to reality after a flashback
♦ Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD
Because trauma can happen to anyone, so can PTSD. We all know life can throw us some very difficult situations, and having PTSD is nothing of which anyone should be ashamed. There is also help available — for veterans, survivors of sexual abuse, those who have lost a loved one, those facing a disability, and much more — from Highland Rivers Health, but also from local agencies and support groups, churches, healthcare providers and others.
You do not have to face your struggles alone. Reach out if you need help.