Out of concern for everyone who was directly or indirectly affected by recent traumatic events, for this week’s post, I will dispense with my usual “firedog-isms.” Check back next week to read my unique “canine take.”
The term “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) was originally coined to refer to veterans of war. Now, doctors diagnose PTSD in anyone who has experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event and suffers associated long-term physical and/or psychological symptoms. With the recent prevalence of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, active shooting events and other manmade and natural disasters, 13 million people worldwide are believed to suffer from the malady.
While disasters and mass violence trigger split-second changes in the body, these fluctuations are meant to temporarily help victims manage or avoid danger. Even though many people experience flashbacks, sadness, terror and grief following trauma, they usually recover, in time. However, in some cases, stress alters brain chemistry so it defaults to fight-or-flight mode long after the threat has passed.
Experts with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explain the phenomenon: “This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.”
For anyone who experiences trauma for weeks, months or even years after disaster strikes, intervention may be necessary.
- An estimated 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives.
- Up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD.
- An estimated 5% of Americans have PTSD at any given time.
- An estimated 1 out of 10 women, who are more susceptible to the condition than men, will develop PTSD at some time in their lives.
Types of PTSD
- Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
- Avoiding situations reminiscent of the event
- Experiencing negative changes in beliefs and feelings
- Feeling keyed up (AKA “hyperarousal”)
Get help if you experience any of the following, or know someone whose symptoms:
- Last longer than three months
- Cause great distress
- Disrupt work or home life
What to Do about PTSD
PTSD symptoms usually develop soon after a traumatic event. However, for some people, they may not occur until months or even years after the trauma. Symptoms might come and go over many years. If you suspect PTSD, keep track of symptoms and talk to someone you trust.
Anyone with PTSD should be treated by a mental health care professional who is experienced with the disorder. Some people will need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) – Teaches patients how to change upsetting thoughts and feelings experienced since the trauma. Includes therapies such as Stress Inoculation Training (SIT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
- Present Centered Therapy (PCT)– A non-trauma focused treatment which centers around current issues rather than directly processing the trauma. PCT provides psychoeducation about the impact of trauma on one’s life as well as teaching problem- solving strategies to deal with current stressors.
- Counseling – Some patients experience relief after talking to a psychologist or participating in a support group.
- Medication – In some cases, doctors might prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
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