PTSD and Trauma: Not Just for Veterans

By Laura Greenstein | Nov. 08, 2017

 

When we think about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s typically in the context of active duty service members and veterans—for good reason. Dangerous and potentially traumatic situations are common occurrences in the context of military service. However, it’s important to note that PTSD is not exclusive to this type of trauma.

In the U.S., about eight million people experience PTSD. While any traumatic experience can lead to PTSD, there are a few types of trauma that are the most common. Examples include sexual assault/abuse, natural disasters, accidents/injuries to self or other, or being in a life-threatening situation. When you consider these examples, it’s understandable why people would associate PTSD most frequently with military service members. However, this assumption can be problematic.

If people believe that only service members and veterans can develop PTSD, the recognition of symptoms and treatment can be delayed. The fact is: Anyone can develop PTSD when they experience or witness a traumatic event—adult or child, man or woman. Anyone.

How Do You Know if You Have PTSD?

About 50% of all people will go through at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime. But not everyone will develop PTSD. In fact, the majority won’t. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the typical symptoms that follow a traumatic event and when it has reached the point that a condition like PTSD has developed.

It’s common for people who experience trauma to have nightmares or flashbacks for a few weeks and then gradually improve. It’s when those symptoms don’t improve and begin to interfere with a person’s life that a mental health evaluation should be considered. A person who experiences the following intense symptoms for more than a month may have PTSD:

  • At least one “re-experiencing” symptom (flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts)
  • At least one avoidance symptom (avoiding thoughts, feeling, places, objects or events related to the traumatic experience)
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger)
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms (difficulty remembering details of the traumatic experience, negative thoughts, distorted feelings, loss of interest)

It’s important to note that PTSD-related symptoms may not occur immediately after the traumatic event; they may not surface until weeks or months afterwards. Another major, key difference between typical reactions and PTSD is that while most will remember the fear they felt during trauma, PTSD can cause a person to actually feel as if they are reliving that fear.

What Should You Do After Trauma?

If a person feels supported by friends and family after a traumatic event, it can reduce the risk of developing symptoms of PTSD. It can also be helpful for a person to join a support group, so they can share their thoughts, fears and questions with other people who have also experienced trauma. Using healthy, positive coping strategies—such as exercise, mediation or playing an instrument—can also be helpful.

If symptoms persist, it’s essential to seek treatment. Those with PTSD typically respond better to structured therapies such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – helps a person replace their negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR) – exposes a person to traumatic memories with varying stimuli, such as eye movements
  • Exposure therapy – helps a person safely face their fears so they can learn to cope with them
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) – is a new treatment for reducing the intensity and frequency of nightmares

If you or someone you know is having a difficult time coping with trauma, these interventions can make a huge difference. PTSD is treatable. It’s more effective if treated early, but it’s never too late to get treatment no matter how long ago the trauma occurred.

Trauma is a part of life—it affects most people at some point. But that doesn’t mean it’s a mundane experience that can be ignored or brushed off. The key is to check-in on symptoms and seek care from a mental health professional if they persist.

Whether you’re a military service member, veteran, salesperson or elementary school student, PTSD has the potential to develop in any of us. And if it does, please know that help is available. No one should face PTSD alone.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator.

Comments
Francesca Galeazzi
I appreciate the universality of this topic. Too often we marginalize those who can be affected by mental illnesses. With a focus on veterans, children of parents battling with addiction and people of our nation who are, in some ways, "expected" to experience PTSD after traumatic experiences...we forget about the children, men and women who are swept under the rug, suffering from undiagnosed PTSD from hidden sexual abuse, child abuse, grooming and all sorts of inhumane acts that cause a person to feel guilty and ashamed of what they were involved in. Bringing light to mental illness and educating our friends and family about the many different populations PTSD and other mental illnesses affect is the power each individual has and when everyone takes that power and acts on it, we suddenly become a nation that can come together as one and hope to make change.....but it starts by looking at ourselves first, our values and our want and passion to change the thoughts around mental illness.
11/17/2017 11:59:03 AM

Michelle Fino
Patricia,
Thank you for your courage and willingness to speak. My daughter gave birth prematurely to her first child, my first grandchild, two years ago. Gabriel lived 7 precious hours in the palm of hers and my hand.. I have all too vivid recollections of the details of this event and cannot even go by the hospital where he was born, and where he passed.
Thank you for sharing this. It has brought me warmth and a sense of connectivity.
Sincerely,
Michelle
11/16/2017 4:02:42 AM

Kate
Also omitted for some reason are Firefighters/ Paramedics / Police and all first responders. What they see and deal with daily is tragic an horrifying
11/10/2017 2:00:09 AM

Patricia Fragen
You have left off that this can occur when your CHILD faces a life-threatening (or actual loss of life) situation. For all the parents of children taken too early or who have faced critical illness, trauma, etc....your feelings are real, true, and validated.
11/8/2017 8:27:09 PM

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