When some people hear about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they often think of members of the military who return from war zones and react to loud noises. However, while veterans can get PTSD, it is a mental health problem that can happen to anyone. June is PTSD Awareness Month, so here is some information about this disorder and how health care workers and family members can assist those who suffer from it.
Approximately 3.5% of American adults have PTSD. But, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anyone of any age and occupation can develop PTSD, including children. PTSD begins when someone is exposed to shocking, frightening, or dangerous experiences such as abuse, national disasters, combat, and accidents. While traumatic incidents do cause hesitation or fearfulness, some people eventually recover. It’s when that recovery process doesn’t begin after a certain amount of time that someone could have PTSD.
While PTSD has been around since the beginning of time, it hasn’t always been acknowledged as a disorder. In fact, it was often mocked or thought to be a cause of weakness. There is documentation of soldiers in the Civil War having anxiety and trouble breathing. Writers such as Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, and F. Scott Fitzgerald have included characters in their works that today would be determined to have PTSD. After World War I, some soldiers were diagnosed with what was then called ‘shell shock.’ However, shell shock was not a medical term, so treatments, if they happened at all, were often crude and harsh. Then the American Psychiatric Association (APA) included Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in its manual for mental disorders in 1980. This helped distinguish PTSD from being considered a failing to it being acknowledged as something that affected people and that they did not have control over. And, as a medical diagnosis, opened the way for those who have it to begin receiving care and treatment.
Warning Signs of PTSD
While PTSD affects everyone differently, some signs that may indicate someone is having problems adjusting to a traumatic situation include:
- Being easily startled
- Avoiding areas that remind them of the event
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Irrational behavior
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
These symptoms aren’t inclusive, and everyone reacts differently to trauma. However, when the incident continues to impact someone after more than a few months and begins to interfere with their daily lives, they may have PTSD.
How To Treat PTSD
While people who have PTSD may feel it’s something that they have to live with, the good news is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is treatable. Treatment may be through therapy, medication, or combining the two based on what the patient and their doctor decide will work best for them. To get started in finding help, the PTSD Alliance suggests speaking with a family doctor, finding support groups, or for military veterans, contact the Veterans Crisis Line for assistance.
When Someone You Know Has PTSD
Dealing with someone who is affected by PTSD can be very hard on friends, co-workers, and family members. The National Center for PTSD states that living with someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be traumatic in itself. That’s because the avoidance mechanism that occurs with someone who has the disorder affects how they interact with those around them. For example, the symptoms can significantly affect children whose parents have PTSD and can cause them to feel as if it’s their fault or hinder their ability to learn how to interact with others.
What can someone do to help someone they know with PTSD? First and foremost, be patient with them. Their symptoms aren’t controllable and might be as frustrating to them as the symptoms to you. Being patient might not be easy, but it is helpful to the person who has the disorder. Also, make sure to educate yourself about the condition. In addition to the National Institute of National Health and the National Center for PTSD, many national and local groups work diligently to providing assistance and help. Also, it may be necessary for family members to enter therapy independently to work through their feelings.
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