As a mental health professional, I treat a wide range of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD. Unfortunately, this common condition often goes undiagnosed and untreated, leading to increasing challenges with worsening symptoms and interfering with daily living such as sleep, agitation, substance use, and depression.
I want to share the following information about what PTSD is, its symptoms, and suggestions for treatment to help individuals and families who are currently struggling with PTSD in their lives. It is important to remember that PTSD can affect anyone, and support is available if or when it does.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Understanding and Managing Symptoms
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, sexual or physical assault, combat, or a severe accident. PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. However, childhood experiences of maltreatment and adverse events can result in symptoms of post-traumatic stress that persist into adulthood. Individuals with other mental health conditions and veterans are also at increased risk for developing PTSD.
It is normal to react to a scary or life-threatening event, but most people feel better in the weeks following the event. However, some people continue to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress that interfere with daily life and persist for months. These symptoms can progress to full-blown PTSD, a condition that affects about 5% of the general population. Military, Veterans, and First Responders have rates of PTSD that are reported as 8-12% in some studies.
The symptoms of PTSD can be divided into four categories:
- Intrusive thoughts – Intrusive thoughts and memories involve “reliving the event” through flashbacks, nightmares, or distressing thoughts.
- Avoidance – Avoidance is characterized by efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the traumatic event.
- Hyperarousal – Hyperarousal refers to being easily startled, hypervigilant, or constantly on edge.
- Negative mood and cognition – Finally, negative mood and cognition involve feeling numb, detached, or irritable, as well as experiencing negative changes in beliefs about oneself, others, or the world.
When to Seek Help for PTSD
It is common for individuals with PTSD also to experience anxiety and depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress that interfere with daily activities, parenting duties, work, and relationships, it is time to talk with a mental health provider. Other factors, such as alcohol or substance misuse, sleep problems, chronic pain, and traumatic brain injury, will be of interest to your mental health provider.
Treatment for PTSD can involve a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of therapy used to treat PTSD, which helps individuals to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to PTSD symptoms. Research has also shown that trauma-focused talk therapy models like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are effective in treating PTSD in adults. CPT and PE are the gold standard treatments for PTSD in active military and veteran clients.
Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) are two of the recommended treatment approaches for youth and families. Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may also be recommended. In addition to therapy and medication, lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress reduction techniques can also help manage PTSD symptoms.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has clinical evidence on treating PTSD as well, although this is a non-FDA approach. TMS is non-invasive but does require a time commitment, and currently, insurance does not cover the treatment of PTSD with TMS. However, insurance does cover TMS therapy for treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder, which often co-exists with PTSD. Consult with your provider to see if this is a fit for your symptoms.
Final Thoughts on PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a challenging condition to manage, but with the right treatment and support, it is possible to live a fulfilling life. If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, seek help from a mental health provider. With proper care, it is possible to overcome PTSD and reclaim your life.
Erika McElroy, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist offering mental health services at Family Care Center. She is passionate about educating others about the myths and stigma of mental health conditions. Her free time is spent reading, enjoying the beautiful Colorado weather and being creative.