While June may be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness month, IU Health makes it a yearlong focus working with patients who struggle with PTSD daily. It’s important to bring awareness to PTSD as many people suffer from this very treatable condition and don’t seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a disorder that can result from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that can range from a serious injury or accident, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, war/combat and many other forms of trauma. In the immediate aftermath, people may have trouble coping or adjusting. Many people can resolve these issues without developing PTSD, but some are unable to resolve the symptoms on their own.
While PTSD certainly causes anxiety, it is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder. Instead, PTSD is recognized as its own category within the 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
What are causes of PTSD?
Many people often associate veterans and combat-related trauma with PTSD. However, PTSD can be caused by other traumatic events that are just as common, including:
- childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
- childhood neglect
- such as not having enough food, appropriate interactions with responsible adults; all the things’ kids need to grow and thrive
- involvement in an event (directly or indirectly)
- domestic violence
- car accidents
- sexual assault
Individuals that suffer repeated or sustained exposure can develop a more severe form of PTSD, commonly referred to as complex post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD. Individuals with C-PTSD typically have more intense symptoms and can take longer to recover.
How do I know if I have PTSD?
There are various ways to tell if you or a loved one might have PTSD. Here are some common symptoms to look for:
- unwanted memories and intrusive thoughts
- disturbing dreams or nightmares
- flashbacks – feeling as if you are reliving the event over and over
- avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic experience
- difficulty remembering parts of the event
- blaming yourself or other strong negative thoughts or feelings about yourself
- loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- difficulty experiencing positive feelings
- using alcohol, drugs or participating in risky behaviors
- often being ‘on-guard’ or hyper-alert’
PTSD can affect anyone – any race, gender, age, etc. Many people who have had or have witnessed a traumatic event might have these symptoms in the days following the event. PTSD is typically diagnosed if the symptoms last for an extended period (typically more than a month) and significantly impact the person’s daily activities.
Generally, PTSD is diagnosed by a behavioral health professional such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist who will complete a thorough history and screening. Some of the more common diagnostic screenings include:
- PCL-5 (PTSD checklist) – a self-report measure of symptoms that could be indicative of PTSD
- CAPS-5 (clinician administered PTSD scale) – Administered by a clinician, considered the ‘gold standard’ for diagnosing PTSD
- ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) – a 10-question assessment based on childhood experiences before the age of 18;
- Examples of childhood experiences on the assessment include having a household family member diagnosed with a mental health disorder or struggling with addiction, being physically and/or sexually abused and having a family member incarcerated.
- Studies have shown that traumatic events experienced in childhood can lead to increased likelihood of developing certain health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, substance use disorders and even certain cancers.
What can PTSD feel like?
Symptoms of PTSD can impact daily life in many ways. It can affect how you sleep, eat or react to events you may encounter every day. It can also lead to avoidance of going places or being around people. Individuals with PTSD often experience anxiety and depression; in fact, more than 80% of people with PTSD have a second mental health condition. Avoidance is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD because avoiding possible triggers can keep you from having those feelings you do not want.
Some people might use unhealthy avoidance techniques to cope – such as eating disorders, excessive shopping, risky or unprotected sex, substance abuse, etc. Left untreated, these unhealthy avoidance techniques can lead to severe health issues. Avoidance also means you’re not fully experiencing life or joy which can negatively impact how you see yourself and others around you.
Can PTSD be treated?
PTSD can be a lifelong disorder, but treatments do exist to help with coping skills and adjusting to life after the traumatic event. By getting screened, using the available tools and resources and seeking treatments, you have a better chance of resolving your PTSD symptoms. Most patients living with PTSD develop negative thinking patterns and treatment can help them approach life differently and find the joys in life again. Medications can also be helpful in combination with treatment.
Some treatments available at IU Health are:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy – helps you process and make sense of your trauma by paying attention to a back-and-forth movement
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – a writing protocol that reframes your negative thoughts about trauma, by examining irrational thoughts and restructuring them to more realistic thinking while monitoring symptoms of PTSD weekly until reduction is achieved.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – similar therapy elements as CPT but often administered in individual or group psychotherapy
With many different treatment options, it can be hard to know which one may be best for you. The National Center for PTSD has information and videos to help you understand the treatment options available and help you choose the treatment that’s right for you or a family member.
If you or a loved one is in a crisis, there are resources available to help:
- Veterans Crisis Line 800.273.8255 (press 1)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline 800.950.NAMI (6264)