Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an intense and often debilitating psychiatric condition experienced by more than 7.7 million Americans. A common misconception about PTSD is that it only affects military veterans, however, that could not be further from the truth. While military service men and women often experience symptoms of PTSD post combat, it’s not limited to one group or one type of traumatic event. PTSD can be an aftermath felt by anyone who has undergone a dangerous or extremely frightening experience.
What exactly is PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a serious traumatic event. This can vary from experiencing or witnessing an assault, a natural disaster, a serious accident, war trauma, a terrorist attack or other traumatic event. It’s important to note that what is traumatic for one person may not be perceived as traumatic for another individual. Anyone who has been through what they felt to be a disturbing or life-altering situation is sure to feel shaken up afterward. However, for most people, these fear-based reactions are short-lived and fade with time. But if the pattern of intense trauma continues, PTSD may be causing an underlying issue. Memories of a traumatic event can appear weeks, months or even years after it has occurred.
People of any age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or nationality can be affected by PTSD. As mentioned before, it is not limited to military combat. Anyone can develop PTSD. However, statistics show women are twice as likely as men to have the psychiatric disorder.
What does PTSD look like?
PTSD can manifest itself in many different ways. Often times people experiencing extreme trauma have intense flashbacks that inhibit them from continuing normal activity. Although people with PTSD may try to avoid situations or events that trigger their trauma, their reactions and responses are not always in their control. Emotions and episodes may come without warning, so it’s important to not only understand the signs and symptoms but be empathetic and understanding when someone is experiencing a trigger related to PTSD.
Common symptoms of PTSD include, but are not limited to:
Support is out there
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, a wide variety of support is available. PTSD can affect individuals differently, so it’s important to seek the therapy, guidance or treatment that is most appropriate and effective. If someone you know is enduring PTSD, encourage them to seek help while continuing to act as a system of support. Other ways to directly help someone with PTSD include spending quality time with them, being an active listener, discouraging them from using negative coping strategies and encouraging them to take care of themselves both physically and mentally.
Although it can be difficult to know what to say or do when a loved one is suffering from the disorder, assisting them to seek professional guidance is a step in the right direction.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers support resources including a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator where people seeking assistance can pinpoint a provider closest and best-fit for their needs. Other resources include the SAMHSA Helpline, which offers 24/7 confidential, free treatment and service referrals. Learn more about PTSD treatment and services here.
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