What is PTSD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is a disorder “that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event.” This could be an event such as war, assault, or natural disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma, however, if the reactions don’t reside over time, or begin to disrupt the person’s life, they could have PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder where the symptoms are not always present to the outside world, but for those dealing with PTSD, the symptoms and disorder are all too real.
Sadly, PTSD can lead to other issues in both men and women, including severe depression, alcohol and substance abuse, crime and suicide.
Military and PTSD
Those who serve in the military have a chance to be diagnosed with PTSD, especially those who are in the midst of a war.
Research by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans suggests 10 to 18 percent “are likely to have PTSD after they return.” The study also states that veterans of those two conflicts are at risk for other mental health issues, along with excessive drinking and use of tobacco.
“Some research has looked at how the response to war stressors changes over time. PTSD symptoms are more likely to show up in returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom service members after a delay of several months,” the study states.
According to the VA, there are numerous factors that can increase the risk of PTSD in veterans, including: longer deployment time, more severe combat exposure, lower rank, family problems, and being a member of the National Guard or Reserves.
Data shows that from 2002 to 2009, one million troops left for active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and less than half (46 percent) of those came for VA services. Of that 46 percent, almost half were diagnosed with a mental health problem.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
Traditional symptoms of PTSD often include disturbing memories of the event, increased jumpiness, re-experiencing the event, avoidance, and difficulty sleeping. “Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD,” the National Institute of Mental Health states on its website.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have one of the following for a month:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom (flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts)
- At least one avoidance symptom (avoiding places, events, thoughts or feelings related to traumatic event)
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (negative thoughts, guilt feeling, loss of interest in activities).
- Those who feel any of the aforementioned symptoms are asked to consult their doctor.
Women’s PTSD symptoms often vary from men’s. According to the National Center for PTSD, women may be more than twice as likely as men to experience PTSD. This is likely the result of sexual assaults against women. Women may also blame themselves for events more than men.
Suicide and PTSD
Each day, 22 veterans take their life on American soil. How many of those suffered from PTSD is unknown, but, according to data from the VA for fiscal year 2009, the suicide rate among male veteran VA users was 38.3 per 100,000, compared to 12.8 per 100,000 females.
Treatment of PTSD
People may tend to keep their experience to themselves as to not concern or traumatize others. However, discussing their feelings is often one of the ways to begin coping. Working with a qualified therapist can give the person experiencing PTSD a needed outlet.
Research shows that one of the most effective treatments of PTSD is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The VA provides two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to Veterans with PTSD: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In cognitive therapy, the therapist helps the patient understand and change how they think about the trauma. The goal is to understand how certain thoughts cause stress and make symptoms worse.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a similar type of therapy that is used for PTSD. Some medications have also shown to be effective. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also commonly used for depression, is usually effective for PTSD patients.
In exposure therapy the goal is to have less fear about the troubling memories. It is based on the concept that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a traumatic event.
By discussing the trauma with a therapist, the patient can learn to get control of their thoughts and feelings, and therefore changing how they react to the stressful memories.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR uses visual stimuli while discussing the troubling memories. For example, hand taps, sound and similar stimuli that the patient would follow with their eyes during therapy. Experts are still learning how EMDR works, and there is some disagreement about whether eye movements are a necessary part of the treatment.
Chemicals in the brain affect the way people feel. For example, someone with depression you may not have enough of a chemical called serotonin. SSRIs raise the level of serotonin in the brain.