What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
If you or a loved one experienced or witnessed a traumatic or unusually stressful event, it is natural and normal to feel afraid, anxious, or distressed afterwards. In some cases, however, an upsetting experience can develop into a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A person with PTSD may struggle with their ability to maintain relationships, fulfill their work responsibilities, or perform daily activities. They may try not to think about what happened, or engage in unhealthy coping methods.
Data from Harvard Medical School found that, in 2007, an estimated 3.6 percent of U.S. adults (more than 9 million individuals) had PTSD in the past year. However, many cases may go unreported, so the actual rate could be much higher.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD can happen to just about anyone who experiences or witnesses trauma. A person may develop PTSD from stressors like:
- Military combat or battle
- Death of a loved one
- Violent crime, including assault or school shooting
- Traffic accident
- Natural disaster
- Ongoing abuse, neglect, or persecution
Some risk factors for PTSD include:
- Feeling helpless about the event
- Lack of social support
- Dealing with additional stress after the event
- History of mental illness or substance abuse
What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
There are several groups of symptoms that develop with PTSD:
- Re-experiencing symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, or uncontrollable thoughts about the triggering event
- Avoidance symptoms, which include avoiding thoughts or places that remind you of the event, or avoiding talking about the event
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms, which include difficulty sleeping, emotional outbursts, or feeling tense or easily startled
- Cognition and mood symptoms, which include difficulty remembering details of the traumatic event, feeling overwhelming guilt or shame, or losing interest in previously enjoyable activities
When these symptoms persist long after the traumatic event, this may indicate PTSD.
How do I learn if I have PTSD?
If you are concerned about symptoms of PTSD, you can make an appointment with your family doctor. A psychiatrist or therapist who has experience with trauma can also diagnose PTSD.
For an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD, he or she must meet the following criteria for at least one month:
- A re-experiencing symptom
- An avoidance symptoms
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
We also offer an anonymous online screen to help you figure out more about your symptoms and if further evaluation is needed.
What if my child or loved one shows symptoms of PTSD?
Older children and teens tend to show symptoms that are similar to adults. They may also show more disruptive, destructive, or rebellious behaviors or attitudes. They may feel guilty, or think about revenge.
PTSD is uncommon in young children, but possible. For children under 10, symptoms may include:
- Wetting the bed after already learning to use the toilet
- Inability or forgetting how to talk
- Acting out the triggering event during playtime
- Increased clinginess or separation anxiety with parents or other adult
If you suspect PTSD, schedule an appointment with your child’s healthcare provider. Your child’s provider may refer you to a mental-health professional who specializes in trauma among children and adolescents.
What are the treatments for PTSD?
PTSD treatment will depend on your individual needs and symptoms. For many people, a combination of treatments can be helpful.
Medication for PTSD
In most cases, people with PTSD experience changes in their brains that affect the way they process stress and perceive threats. Because of this, a medication evaluation may help with PTSD symptoms. Some medications that your doctor may prescribe for PTSD include:
- An SSRI or SNRI, which affect the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Antipsychotics or second generation antipsychotics (SGAs)
Your doctor or other healthcare provider can help determine if medication is right for you. Never stop or change your medication without consulting your prescriber.
Medication can help with PTSD, but usually cannot cure it. Most experts recommend some sort of psychotherapy with medication.
Behavioral therapy or psychotherapy
In general, therapy for PTSD is intended to improve your symptoms, teach you skills to deal with your past experiences and memories, and improve your self-esteem.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
CPT is based on the idea that the way people think about things directly affects how they feel and act. CPT helps individuals with PTSD better understand the traumatic event and learn how to modify the meaning they give it.
People who suffer from PTSD may develop habitual, negative thought patterns that lead to fear and anxiety. CPT can help them adjust their negative thoughts by changing the meaning of the trauma associated with their PTSD.
CPT has been proven to successfully reduce the symptoms of PTSD in multiple research studies. The best part is that it does not require years of treatment. Most patients can complete a full course of CPT with three months of weekly sessions.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) at MindPath Care Centers
Somatic experiencing (SE) is a powerful method for resolving trauma and relieving chronic stress. The SE approach encourages a person to release traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
The SE approach is based on the idea that a person with PTSD may be “stuck” in the natural responses of either fight, flight, freeze, or collapse. SE helps determine which of these responses an individual may be “stuck” in, and provides the clinical tools to resolve it. SE allows a person with PTSD to complete the natural, instinctual physical responses to trauma, releasing the survival energy that has been stuck in your body.
With SE, you do not have to retell or relive the event that has led to your PTSD. Instead, you can gradually, safely interact with your body’s natural responses, and then complete and resolve them with your therapist’s help and support.
SE can help you reset your nervous system, allowing you to regain inner balance, improve your resilience, and grow your capacity to actively engage in life.
Get help for PTSD and trauma
Many people have found success with PTSD treatment. Some research shows that up to 70 percent of veterans (male and female) who receive CPT or PE experienced symptom improvements.
MindPath Care Centers aim to help individuals and families struggling with trauma find help in a safe, compassionate environment. Our only role is to help you get the treatment you need.
If you or your loved one struggle with PTSD or trauma, there is help and hope for you. The experienced specialists at MindPath Care Centers are ready to help you live your best life. Call us today at 1-919-929-9610 to schedule an evaluative appointment, or simply a time to talk.