June is national PTSD awareness month. Many of us have heard of the term PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, intense anxiety, and avoidance of certain situations. Knowing this leads us to ask two important questions:
How does PTSD develop and how long does it last?
How does PTSD develop?
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be unphased by traumatic events in their lives, while others seem to have their world turned upside down by a life-threatening event, injury, or circumstance?
The reality is that PTSD can happen to anyone, but it doesn't happen to everyone. Around 70% of U.S. adults experience some type of trauma at least once in their lifetime. But only a small number of these people — about 8% — develop symptoms that meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
Why some people get PTSD and others don’t is still not completely understood. Research has found, however, that certain risk factors may make someone more likely to develop PTSD than those without those risks.
These risks include:
Directly experiencing a traumatic event or being injured (as many as 20% of soldiers coming back from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq were diagnosed with PTSD.)
Sexual assualt or other sexual traumas are linked to a higher likelihood of deveoping PTSD. In fact, one study showed that approximately 45% of women who survived a rape developed PTSD.
Racial-based discrimination can have serious physical effects on victims, and when prolonged, can cause PSTD symptoms.
Food insecurity, or not having enough access to food, has been tied to PTSD, anxiety, and depression in both adults and children.
Refugees and asylum seekers face a significantly greater risk of developing PTSD because of exposure to threats of torture, a lack of basic human necessities like food and shelter, or separation from their families.
Experiencing childhood trauma
Experiencing severe or repeated trauma
Working in a high-risk job, like as a member of the armed forces
Being taken into foster care as a child
Having no or very little social support
Having a personal or family history of mental health or substance use issues
How long does PTSD last?
Many people suffering from PTSD avoid talking about what happened and may even withdraw from their closest friends and family members. Professional help may be resisted or they may feel ashamed of their physical and emotional reactions. Those who experience trauma usually experience shock, painful memories, negative thinking, and exaggerated perceptions afterward. Symptoms can appear immediately or months later.
People who do not experience PTSD usually recover from their symptoms within a few weeks or months of experiencing the trauma. When someone develops PSTD, the symptoms persist for many years and may stay consistent or fluctuate. What do we mean by this? Someone may have times when their symptoms are less severe and others when symptoms flare up, while others may feel their symptoms present all the time.
Trauma symptoms can flare up when stressed or intense. Effective treatment can dramatically impact the duration and severity of symptoms. Treatment for PTSD can involve psychological therapy, medication, or a combination of both. It's important to focus on self-care and find ways to manage stress levels. Seeking professional help is highly recommended for those who have experienced trauma.
After a distressing event, PTSD may manifest through the following types of symptoms:
Re-experiencing: Nightmares, flashbacks, or terrifying thoughts related to the trauma
Avoidance: Staying clear of places that trigger reminders of a traumatic event or keeping busy to forget the incident
Arousal and reactivity: Difficulty sleeping, being easily frightened, tenseness, or irritability
Cognitive and mood symptoms: Inability to recall important aspects of the traumatic event, self-blame or guilt, problems focusing, or loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities
Children may have different PTSD symptoms than adults. For example, children under 6 years old may:
Wet the bed after being toilet trained
Have difficulty speaking
Be unusually attached to a parent or adult