The month of June was filled with different awareness topics, one very popular one being pride awareness. However, another important part of June that is not looked at as much is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Many people have heard about this disorder but what does it actually look like?
Symptoms of PTSD:
According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) a person first must have experienced, witnessed, learned about someone close to them experiencing a traumatic event, or being repeatedly exposed to aversive details of a traumatic event (such as first responders). A person with PTSD symptoms will also experience some time of thought intrusion of the event, meaning involuntary memories, dreams, flashbacks, distress to non-threatening situations that recreate fear for a person (triggers). A person experiencing PTSD may actively avoid people, places, situations, or things that may bring back memories associated with the traumatic event. People with PTSD symptoms may be unable to recall certain memories about the event. They may have trouble seeing the world from a positive view and express feeling alone. Symptoms also include more intense emotional reactions to situations that may have not caused such an intense reaction in the past.
Who is affected by PTSD?
Usually the first people that come to mind are Veterans. This is definitely a large population of people who are affected by PTSD. However, there are many others who are not always as recognized who also suffer from this disorder. Other people who are at a higher prevalence for PTSD are first-responders, survivors of rape, those who have been in a type of captivity, genocide, or those who have suffered political/governmental oppression, PTSD can encompass anyone who has experienced a trauma. Latino Americans, African Americans, and American Indians generally have higher rates of PTSD compared to U.S. Caucasian people. Some reasons could be due to the racial oppression that is still present through acts of real threat and perceived threat.
PTSD can occur at any age; it does not discriminate among age. However, children and older adults generally are less likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. It can look different among the developmental span as well. Young children may complain of frightening dreams. Through their play other signs and symptoms may arise. For example, they may reenact a situation or display “odd” emotional reactions. Their emotional and behavioral reactions to situations may be increased due to the traumatic event. Teens may feel an increased sense of isolation due to believing they have experienced an event that is different than those of their peers’. They may have a decreased hope or ambition about future goals. With older adults, PTSD often has a greater effect on overall health.
Will everyone who experiences a trauma experience PTSD?
No, not everyone who experiences trauma will result in PTSD. There are certain risk factors and protective factors that can increase and/or decrease the likeliness of a person developing PTSD. If a person has a history of emotional or mental issues their likelihood can increase. A person’s environment can play a role too. People who have lower socioeconomic status, lower education, and past childhood adversity are more at risk. Genetics also come into play and can either increase or decrease the likelihood. A strong mitigating factor is social support prior, during, and after the event(s). This is one of the most influential aspects of supporting a person who is at risk for developing PTSD.
So, although the factors listed above may contribute to the onset of PTSD, those protective factors may also help prevent it from manifesting; there is no specific formula that can determine if a person will get PTSD after a traumatic experience.
How can we help?
Now that we have learned about PTSD and have a better understanding of those who can be affected, what can we do? Two of the biggest things are listening and talking. I put listening first because many times we are ready to talk about something or think we may be an expert on a topic when really we need to listen. Listening to the traumatic experiences or what it is like to live a life with PTSD is critical. Being an empathetic and supportive ear can have a large impact on people and was one of the largest protective factors discussed.
We can also talk about PTSD. By creating conversations and asking questions to those who may know more than us we can strive to break down the stigma that exists. Together we can support people suffering from PTSD and help them feel more open to share what is going on for them. As a result of tackling PTSD through supportive conversation, we are better able to cultivate discussions and challenge misconceptions and assist those struggling with PTSD.
Another important part of helping is the support and involvement we can offer. We can encourage others by providing them with mental health and community resources in addition to helping them identify support and be involved in their lives during this challenging time. We can give those we care about the space to experience their feelings without feeling as though they need to hide what they are going through, or even more importantly, that somehow we need to fix “it”. We can find events to get involved in to support people who have PTSD and their families. We can encourage schools to increase their awareness of the signs and symptoms for children. We can get involved with our local government to support laws that will benefit those suffering from mental illness. We can make an impact!
By: Sarah Richards
For information on our counseling services or if you think you may be suffering from PTSD or another mental illness please feel welcome to call 303.353.9226 or email email@example.com for information and appointments. To set up an appointment directly with Sarah Richards please call 720.923.2326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources are listed below for ways to get connected and involved:
American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5 Task Force. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.). Arlington, VA, US: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.