The month of June is a time for recognizing and raising awareness about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Military servicemembers, veterans and first responders are among the many people whose work exposes them to traumas that can lead to PTSD. This mental health issue impacts about 8 million adults per year in the U.S., and roughly 7-8% of the population will experience PTSD throughout their lives, according to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD), part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What is PTSD?
The NCPTSD defines PTSD as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” When a traumatic event causes prolonged symptoms and disruptions in a person’s life, it may be a sign of PTSD.
Experiencing all of the following symptoms would lead a mental health care provider to issue a PTSD diagnosis, according to the NCPTSD:
- Avoiding situations, places and experiences that could recall the traumatic incident.
- Reliving the incident through unwelcome memories and invasive flashbacks.
- Increasingly experiencing negative feelings like sadness, numbness, shame and lack of interest or trust.
- Feeling on edge or hyperaroused and being irritable or unable to sleep or focus as a result.
Anyone experiencing even one of these symptoms can benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.
What is PTSD treatment like?
Treating and overcoming PTSD can be mentally and emotionally draining, and many individuals experiencing symptoms may not feel ready to begin. However, the sooner they start working through therapeutic treatment, the more quickly they can move forward from the traumatic incident and find relief.
It is also important to note that there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about seeking out help for mental health conditions such as PTSD. Anyone experiencing tooth discomfort would visit a dentist who has the right training, tools and outside perspective to see inside their client’s mouth, pinpoint the cause of pain and begin the healing process. In the same way, anyone experiencing the disruption and pain of posttraumatic stress can enlist the help of a therapist who possesses the right training, tools and outside perspective to see into their client’s heart and mind and begin the healing process.
During trauma-focused psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, a client and therapist typically meet for about an hour and discuss the traumatic event, working from specific treatment goals. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), effective treatment methods include:
- Cognitive processing therapy: By exploring the feelings, thoughts and emotions they are left with in the wake of a traumatic incident, individuals with PTSD can work to rewrite those thought patterns.
- Cognitive restructuring therapy: By reexaming what actually happened during the event, versus what memories remain, individuals can overcome feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility for the traumatic incident.
- Prolonged exposure therapy: By revisiting the traumatic memory, individuals with PTSD can explore their emotions and reduce the overpowering impact of that memory so it no longer causes a disruption in their daily life.
- Stress inoculation training: By practicing new ways to manage posttraumatic stress and emotions, individuals can better cope with their symptoms. This treatment is often used in conjunction with other therapies.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy: By exploring negative emotions and memories while focusing on specific visual or audible cues, individuals can change how they respond when those memories resurface.
- Present centered therapy: By examining current experiences rather than the trauma itself, individuals can witness the impact of that incident on their present-day life and work to better manage those issues.
- Prescription medication: A psychiatrist may prescribe medication as part of treatment to provide their clients experiencing PTSD with more of the stress-management chemicals their brain is lacking.
The NCPTSD PTSD Decision Aid is a helpful tool for those who want to learn more about treatment options and consider which one might be the right fit.