What is PTSD? And How Can I Help?

About 70% of adults experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), during their lifetime and 1 in 13 adults have PTSD that goes undiagnosed. PTSD is defined by the American Psychology Association as, “A trauma and stress related disorder that may develop after exposure to an event or ordeal in which death, severe physical harm or violence occurred or was threatened.” It is frequently accompanied by depression, substance abuse and/or severe anxiety.

A lot of people have misconceptions about PTSD, including the idea that it will go away if they really try hard enough. As much as you and I wish that were the case, unfortunately it is not that easy. PTSD can stick with a person throughout their lifetime, because in the course of being traumatized, his/her brain changes a little bit, or a lot of bit in some situations, in order to protect itself.  Even when removed from the dangerous situations, it becomes significantly easier to become triggered by something because the brain becomes so focused on mere survival and will do anything to stay “safe”. A common trigger we see at our center is the child being put back into the environment where the trauma happened.  Often times this causes a variety of symptoms, including hyperactivity, clinginess, anxiety or panic attacks, isolation/withdrawal, or even depression. 

Another misconception is that PTSD occurs immediately after the trauma has happened.  This is definitely the case in some situations, but in others, it can take a month or more to see any symptoms, based on how the individual processes information.  The thought that symptoms show up immediately after the trauma can also lead to the thought that if it is an event that occurred years ago, then it is too late to help.  Well I’m here to say that with the research we have on PTSD, we know that it is never too late to “fix it” and there is still hope for those who were traumatized or abused many years ago. 

When diagnosing PTSD, there are three categories or “clusters” that are considered when making a diagnosis. These include:

  1. Reliving the event through recurring nightmares or intrusive images,
  2. Avoiding reminders of the event, including changing regular routines, changing your social life and work place.
  3. Being on guard or hyper-aroused at all times.

If the symptoms you’re experiencing are causing severe problems or distress in your personal, social and/or work life, it’s important to seek professional help because if left untreated it can change the chemical makeup of the brain and have longer term effects on your life.

That being said, there are many treatment options available. The most commonly used are psychotherapy and medication. Friends and family of the victim can help by talking to them and acknowledging their feelings toward their thoughts. When talking to them it’s important for family and friends to be clear and concise about your support, to be a good listener and to stay positive. It is critical for them to know that someone is on their side and will help them through their journey, with all the ups and downs and all-arounds.  It’ll make a significant difference when you take the time out of your day to help them live a “normal” life and encourage them to pursue all the activities they enjoyed doing before this significant trauma impacted their life.