Mental Health Awareness Month Series! Breaking the Stigma: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

As I continue the series this month during mental health awareness month, I wanted to discuss the next most common mental health illness in the United States behind depression and anxiety disorders and that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, an estimated 3.6 of the population in the U.S. or 9 million people suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event that is greater than a typical stressor for an individual. Some of the events that may lead to PTSD are: violent personal assaults, natural disasters, accidents, combat, violence, and accidents. People experience traumatic events, but not all will develop PTSD. There are other factors that contribute to the development of PTSD.

What are some common symptoms of PTSD?

There are several diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 when assessing for PTSD. For someone to be diagnosed they must have some criteria met in each category. Most of the common manifestations of PTSD can be seen in several things such as these. Experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive mental images and some come with physical manifestations of anxiety like increased heart rate or hot flashes. Avoiding behavior to anything that triggers the memories, pushing aside thoughts and burying memories. Some even repress memories and do not uncover them until triggered years later. Persistent negative thinking and mood, lose interest in activities and life. Being extra vigilant, irritable, excessive worry, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and increased startle response.

What are the dangers of PTSD?

Most commonly when undiagnosed and untreated for years PTSD can manifest into other mood disorders and cause a disruption to daily life. Substance use disorders are commonly comoribid with PTSD, the brain is traumatized and an individual seeks anything to numb their anguish. As a counselor, I find it heartbreaking when I come into contact with individuals who have been trying to numb their feelings with drugs or alcohol, and labeled as a bad person. Often we uncover deep roots linked to childhood trauma or abuse that have gone untreated. Often people are diagnosed with anxiety or depression and given medication by their physicians, and think that they can overcome it without confronting their trauma.

How can I help?

How can we help those silently suffering? Empathy and understanding. Do not assume the addict stuck in a cycle of addiction is just incapable of overcoming their addiction without some metal health care. Acknowledge that everyone has a story, and seek to understand their story and be open to the fact that trauma is a possibility in their past. If someone is struggling the PCL-5 is a standardized test that can help begin to identify symptoms of PTSD. Mental Health America has free screening tools as well for individuals seeking a starting point in their journey.

Offer social support and encouragement. Often PTSD can make someone withdraw, or be difficult to get along with due to their negative attitude and irritability. Try to encourage them to be social, and be open to listening to them when they are ready to talk. Be patient, healing is a process and with the right support recovery is possible! Build trust and safety by being predictable and consistent, sometimes those with PTSD have trust issues and understanding that is driven by the PTSD and not the person can help us have understanding.

Be a beacon of hope and light. PTSD is not a forever sentence of life to be filled with doom and gloom. To the person suffering it may seem like things will not get better; we can be with someone in their pain and be supportive listeners. As they slowly recover we can be that beacon of light that takes them out to do fun things and helps them see life can be enjoyable again. The outdoors is a great healing place for those suffering from PTSD, going for nature walks, hiking, and the beach are great places to go.

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