Posttraumatic stress disorder or better known as PTSD is a mental health disorder that can be triggered by a terrifying event or disaster. It used to be known as “shell shock” during and after World War I and was also referred to as “combat fatigue” during the years after World War II. Although it is commonly thought to only occur in combat veterans, this psychiatric disorder can occur in all people, regardless of their ethnicity, culture, background, sex or age.
Posttraumatic stress disorder affects 3.5% of United States adults. One out of eleven people are estimated to be diagnosed with this mental illness in their lifetime and women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with PTSD. It can last for months or several years, interfere with health and social interactions and can cause difficulty coping and adjusting to normal everyday events. This mental health condition should not be ignored and should be treated as soon as possible.
As mentioned above, PTSD can occur in all people of any age; which brings us to PTSD in children and teens. Researchers have estimated that 40 percent of adolescents and children will experience one or more traumatic events in their lifetimes. Depending on the experience and the level of trauma, these fears and thoughts can lead to PTSD. Any type of traumatic event can lead to PTSD but the main causes are physical violence, natural disasters, sexual assault or abuse and war.
In reality, it’s very sad to imagine that a child or adolescent can experience such a traumatic event. It can lead to serious mental health issues which can last for long periods of time or a whole lifetime. Children especially are very sensitive to their surroundings including images, sounds, and smells. A minor incident, disturbing images or loud noises can impact their psychological health. Although it might not always lead to PTSD, it can cause serious phobias or fears that may last their whole lives.
The Symptoms of PTSD – How to Recognize it
Due to PTSD being a serious mental health issue, symptoms are real and prominent. However, they can be hard to spot. Symptoms may vary from person to person depending on the level of trauma, age, and sex. There are various symptoms that are most commonly found in people who suffer from PTSD. It is very important to “keep an eye” on mental health, just as it is important to keep our bodies healthy. If you experience any of these symptoms and you believe you might be suffering from PTSD. You should take action as soon as possible.
Changes in Behavior – When suffering from PTSD, behavior changes or “arousal symptoms” as doctor’s call it may occur. They can cause you to act differently to certain situations or make you react more intensely to certain emotions or “triggers”. A good example is driving carelessly or at high speeds when you are usually a very calm driver. You may experience feelings of being under attacks or sudden anger that keep you from focusing on everyday tasks.
Memories or Flashbacks – No matter what type of traumatic event you have experienced, you might have had recurring memories, nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event. This might be a sign that you are suffering from PTSD. This symptom of remembering and repeating the event over and over in your mind can lead to feelings of chronic anxiety, fear, suspicion, guilt or anger. They can also cause headaches, shaking, chills, serious panic attacks, and heart palpitations.
Ignoring and Avoiding – This might seem like a simple symptom but it can actually cause many problems both mental and physical. Wanting to avoid or absolutely ignore the feelings, memories or conversations concerning a traumatic event can be a sign of PTSD. Wanting to avoid certain places or activities that remind you of the traumatic event you experienced might be a sign that your brain is not being able to cope or deal with the problem or memory.
Serious Mood Swings – This is a tricky symptom, for it is hard to always blame mood swings on PTSD. This mental illness can cause thoughts and feelings of depression, sadness, anger, hopelessness, numbness, anger, guilt, and shamefulness. It can even lead to suicidal thoughts. You may lose interest in things you used to love or lose motivation for relationships with family and friends. The way to identify if PTSD is causing these mood swings is tracking back and remembering if you were this way before you experienced the traumatic event in your life.
Symptoms of PTSD in Children
When a child or young adolescent develops PTSD, they might experience similar symptoms to those of adults. Due to the age difference and the difference in the capacity to cope with problems and situations, children might experience different symptoms. These may include troubling nightmares, trouble sleeping and bedwetting. Physical symptoms may also occur, such as headaches and stomach aches. Children may also seem unusually anxious or afraid of being separated from their parents or other family members and adults. Children that are diagnosed with PTSD may re-enact the traumatic event they experience through playing or games.
Treatment Options for PTSD
There is a wide variety of treatments offered for posttraumatic stress disorder, giving everyone the option to choose what is right for them depending on how badly they are affected by this mental health disorder. Treatments may vary, depending on age, symptoms and on the person suffering with PTSD. If you do not know what treatment is right for you, do not hesitate to seek the help of mental health professionals.
There are options for PTSD therapy. The main goals of these types of therapy are to restore your self-esteem, teach you skills and ways to deal with it and to improve the symptoms you are experiencing. The therapy provided will help you change your thought patterns which lead to fear or bad memories. This might be completed by talking about your trauma or trying to identify where your fear comes from and what causes it. PTSD therapy has been effective in many patients and may be right for you. There are 3 main types of PTSD therapy and these include:
Cognitive Processing Therapy – This type of therapy, CPT normally lasts 12 weeks and may sometimes have weekly sessions of 60-90 minutes. It involves talking about the traumatic event with a therapist and writing in detail what happened; helping you examine the way you think of the trauma and figure out ways to cope and live with it. It will help you accept, understand, move forward in life and stop blaming yourself, if so, about what happened.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy – This type of therapy, PE will help you confront the things you’ve been avoiding; such as emotions, places, thoughts or reminders. Your therapist will teach you breathing techniques to help with anxiety symptoms caused by PTSD and other ways to deal with symptoms. You may also be asked to write a list of things you avoid or ignore which will help you face them and accepts them. This type of therapy will help you accept and confront the things you have been trying to ignore, letting you finally let go of the fear that comes with it.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – This type of therapy doesn’t have to involve telling your therapist about your traumatic experience, which for some people is necessary. This form of therapy, EMDR, is done by letting the patient concentrate on something by watching or listening and trying to think positively while remembering the trauma. It can be a flashing light, a sound or simply a hand moved by the therapist. This therapy can last up to three months of weekly sessions.
Taking medications might not be the best option for everyone, but for some, it might be the best way to treat PTSD. Choosing strong medications for mental health-related problems can sometimes lead to substance abuse in some but not in everyone. Seeking professional help to treat PTSD is recommended for those who feel that the symptoms are becoming unbearable.
FDA approved medication include Paroxetine or Paxil for short and Sertraline or Zoloft for short. People respond differently to medications and not all symptoms of PTSD are the same from person to person. If you think that taking medication to help with symptoms and ease your PTSD is the right way to go, seek the help of a professional and find what type of medication is perfect for you.
Find Support – You Are Not Alone
There is information provided at the National Center for PTSD and online for anyone who is looking for support, needs more information on treatment options or simply would like to more about PTSD. Speaking to friends and loved ones about PTSD is always a smart idea. Even if you simply suspect or are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, talk you to the people you love. Support and understanding can sometimes be the best “medicine”. If you feel like you need people that are going through something similar, so you can relate and support each other equally, search for a PTSD support group near you.