In The Know: PTSD

June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. At least 6% of Americans will experience this mental health condition during their lifetime. PTSD is triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or terrifying event. While some people may have a temporary difficulty in adjusting after such an event, others continue to suffer for months and sometimes even years with symptoms that interfere with their ability to function in many day to day situations. Most often, symptoms develop soon after the event, but occasionally it may take longer. PTSD can wax and wane over time, especially if an individual is triggered by a more recent event that stirs up old memories. Violent acts, abuse, serious health issues, natural and man-made disasters, and military combat are common precursors to PTSD.

Symptoms may include intrusive thoughts, which can manifest as flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of places that are reminders of the event; negative changes in thinking and mood that include low self-esteem, difficulty expressing emotions, and relationship problems; changes in physical and emotional reactions such as trouble concentrating, being easily startled, disregard for personal safety, and difficulty sleeping. Everyone is different and may manifest a different constellation of symptoms.

People who have a history of anxiety or depression, or those who lack a social support network may be more likely to develop PTSD. There is some evidence that a genetic component may exist as PTSD seems to be somewhat more likely to occur in children of parents with PTSD.

Treatment by a mental health professional usually has three goals: improving symptoms, teaching coping skills, and restoring self-esteem. Options to accomplish this may include a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR),  support groups, and certain medications. Treatment can take time and improvement may occur slowly, but it is effective for the majority of patients. PTSD can at times be so severe that the affected individual begins to think of harming themselves or others.  At that point, treatment becomes emergent and may necessitate a call to 911 or a visit to the nearest emergency department.

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, or feel that you may be suffering from it, please see your primary care provider or local mental health practitioner.  It is not a sign of weakness on your part. There are others who understand and help is available.a

Column by Karen Morriessette,

The Montanian.