As possible PTSD episodes potentially being a trigger for some recent violent crimes with multiple victims, as well as the potential for others who have experienced trauma to suffer from PTSD, it is crucial to understand exactly what PTSD is, how to recognize symptoms, when to ask for help and where to get it.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a type of anxiety disorder that has been initially brought on in the aftermath of some type of trauma or extreme violence. Although most commonly recognized as a condition suffered by military members, those who have been the victim of criminal violence such as rape, kidnapping, child abuse, violent assault, natural disaster or even someone who has been a witness to severe trauma or violence can suffer from PTSD. While the majority of people may return to normal thought processes after the threat to safety has been eliminated, an estimated 1 in 30 individuals annually, and a much higher number for veterans of war, will suffer from PTSD.
PTSD differs from the trauma or feelings of despair that a person may suffer in the loss of a loved one or after suffering a potentially debilitating illness. In PTSD, the person still feels that their safety is threatened and may suffer from fear and extreme stress long after the traumatic event is over. Factors such as the tendency to have a positive or negative outlook on challenges can also have an effect on whether an individual potentially develops PTSD symptoms.
Research into PTSD
PTSD has been recognized as a mental-health disorder, but scientists as now looking at neurobiology and other factors to better understand PTSD, in hopes of better treating those who suffer from it. The National Institute of Mental Health says that scientists are focusing on the role of genes in creating fear memories in hopes that understanding this role may better “help to refine or find new interventions for reducing the symptoms of PTSD.” When considering the neurobiology of PTSD, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains that while we are “programmed” to respond to threats related to our safety in the moment, PTSD “can leave people with ongoing, long-term psychological symptoms.”
While individuals who are experiencing trauma or other threats to safety at a particular time when the “fight or flight” response kicks in, these same responses can cause lasting complex issues later on. When fight or flight response occurs in the immediate threat of terror or trauma, or when a severe injury is sustained, those parts of the brain that controls emotion, thought and memory are essentially “turned off” in the face of trying to fight for immediate safety. NAMI says that the “unprocessed memories of a traumatic event can occur without warning.” This may be part of the reason that a person suffering from PTSD seems to have such a disconnect from reality in the moment, when the victim is still so deeply affected by the events that are causing the PTSD.
Symptoms that may indicate PTSD
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are three different types of PTSD symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the traumatic event, which in turn affects day-to-day activities. Symptoms may include experiencing flashbacks, having repeated nightmares and upsetting memories of the event or traumatic situation as well as feeling uncomfortable in situations or settings that may remind you of the traumatic experience. The second set of symptoms occurs with avoidance. You feel detached, emotionally numb or like you do not care about anything. You may no longer have an interest in normal activities or activities that you used to enjoy. You can also experience feelings that you have no future. The final set of symptoms of PTSD involves hyperarousal. You exhibit hypervigilance, in that you are always scanning your surroundings for danger, startle easily, have difficulty concentrating, going to sleep or staying asleep.
In addition to the above sets of symptoms, feelings of guilt, particularly survivor guilt, agitation and anxiety may also be issues.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, National Center for PTSD explains that there is also a fourth set of symptoms that will be considered when evaluating an individual for PTSD; a negative change in beliefs and feelings.
Several steps must be taken before concluding that a person has PTSD. The first step is an evaluation by a mental health professional. It is imperative that a person receive an evaluation by a therapist experienced in diagnosing PTSD. Initially, a short set of questions will determine if further evaluation is needed. Once that is determined, a full evaluation and assessment will be given. Questions will be asked about the event or events that are possibly causing PTSD. The person will be asked about symptoms and how those symptoms are affecting the individual. Structured questions are also asked as part of the PTSD assessment. Specific testing tools such as the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), PTSD Symptom Scale Interview (PSS-I), Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule-Revised (ADIS), a self-report questionnaire are just some of the tools which may be used.
If you have taken the first steps towards being evaluated to determine if you do indeed suffer from PTSD, you are on the right path towards being able to effectively cope with the symptoms. The National Center for PTSD has online video coaches and many other links to help you in getting help and coping with PTSD. Issues such as overcoming treatment barriers and lifestyle changes are discussed and you can get support from others who have “been there.” Make the Connection says it does not matter “whether you just returned from a deployment or have been home for 40 years, it’s never too late to get professional treatment or support for PTSD.”
There are several treatments for PTSD. You will be expected to take an active role in your treatment once you are formally diagnosed. You can get immediate help at specific times when you feel overwhelmed – you just have to reach out when you feel overwhelmed with your symptoms. In extreme emergency with PTSD symptoms go to the nearest emergency room or call 911; do not wait until your next therapy appointment.
PTSD is not a single set of symptoms with a single cure-all for coping with and overcoming symptoms. Sufferers experience very real trauma all over again as they re-live the traumatic experience causing the PTSD. There are many complex factors contributing to the condition and there is no one cure-all for every sufferer. While those who have served in wars or other military events are frequently victims of PTSD, those who have been victims of traumatic events such as bombings, school shootings or other violence, rape, kidnapping or violent assault all have the potential to suffer from PTSD.
There is help available and reaching out is the first step. Being properly diagnosed can lead to being able to effectively cope with the effects of the traumatic, life-changing event or events that led to PTSD. Individualized treatment and linking to the many available resources can help an individual suffering from PTSD to cope more effectively and gain a more positive outlook on life in the future.