National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day

Posted on June 27 2018

Every year on June 27, people come together to honor and bring community awareness to those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Throughout the years, PTSD has become a more common type of anxiety disorder that can affect anyone of any age.   

PTSD can occur to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, specifically relating to death or violence. For example: people who may have been abused as children, have been sexually abused as children or adults, or people who have been repeatedly exposed to life-threatening situations, face the greatest risk for PTSD. 

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious, but common condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic of terrifying event. It is a lasting consequence of shell shocking ordeals that cause feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror. 

Once called "Battle Fatigue Syndrome", doctors first developed this diagnosis in the 1980s as they began to work with war-zone Veterans from Vietnam. At the beginning, PTSD was only considered to affect those who experienced cataclysmic events, such as war, combat, and natural disasters. 

In the present day, much has been studied and learned about PTSD, and it can be caused by several events - regardless of the severity, or how involved a person was with the actual event. Examples of a few of the causes of PTSD include:

  • Sexual or Physical Assault
  • An unexpected death of a loved one
  • An accident
  • War and Combat
  • Natural Disaster
PTSD can affect not only the victims of the traumatic event, but the families or friends of the victim, emergency personnel, rescue workers, or people who even hear about a traumatic event as well. PTSD can develop as early as childhood, and is more common in women rather then men. Currently, about 3.6% of adult Americans, or approximately 5.2 million people, suffer from PTSD during the course of a year, and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
 
Most people who experience a traumatic event will often have reactions that include shock, anger, nervousness, anxiety, fear, and guilt. These reactions are expected and common, and for most people, they dissipate over time. For a person struggling with PTSD, these feelings continue, increase, and become so severe that they prevent the person from living, or resuming a normal lifestyle.

The Symptoms of PTSD

People who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder usually have symptoms that last longer than a month, and cannot function as well as before the event occurred. Symptoms typically begin within three months of the event, however; they can also begin years later. The duration and severity of the disorder vary. Some, see improvement and begin to recover in six months, while others can suffer much longer. 

The symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into four main categories, including: 
  1. Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive and replay the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. They may experience flashbacks, hallucinations, or nightmares. They also may feel a great amount of anxiety when certain things remind them of that trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event.
  2. Avoidance: Due to the trauma, a person may avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of the ordeal. This can quickly lead to feelings of depression, detachment, isolation from family and friends, and this may cause a loss of interest in activities that a person once enjoyed.
  3. Increased Anxiety and Arousal: Excessive emotions, such as: problems relating to others, an increase or decrease in showing or feeling affection, difficulty falling or staying asleep, insomnia, panic attacks, increased alertness - or being easily startled, irritability, and outbursts of anger. Physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, or diarrhea may also occur in this stage.
  4. Negative Cognitions and Mood: A person suffering from PTSD may experience thoughts and feelings that are related to blame, estrangement, anger, and association of certain things with the memories of the trauma. They are also likely to experience mood swings, and manic depressive episodes. 

As stated above, anyone can experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That is because everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Each person is unique in their ability to manage fear and stress, and each person has unique coping mechanisms. For that reason alone, not everyone will develop PTSD. However; the type of help or support one receives from family, friends, and professionals following the trauma may influence the development of the disorder, as well as the severity. 

How is PTSD Diagnosed?

One month has to pass since the time of a traumatic event. If symptoms of PTSD are present, the doctor then will begin an evaluation by performing a physical exam that includes medical history. While there are no blood, or lab tests to specifically diagnose the disorder, the doctor may choose to run various tests to eliminate physical illness as the cause of the symptoms. 

If no physical symptoms are found, the doctor may refer the patient to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professionals who are specifically trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists are equipped with the proper tools to evaluate the patient for the presence of PTSD or other psychiatric conditions.

The diagnosis of PTSD is based on reported symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by those symptoms. PTSD is then diagnosed if the patient has had symptoms that have lasted for one month or more.

Treatment of PTSD

The prognosis for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very well. Recovery is possible, but it is a gradual and ongoing process of treatments. The goal is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms, to improve daily functioning, and to help the patient learn better coping skills with the event that triggered the disorder. Symptoms of PTSD rarely disappear completely, but with the following treatment options, patients can learn to cope more effectively, manage feelings, and reduce the intensity of the symptoms.

Medication

The most common types of medications that are used to treat PTSD are certain antidepressants that also help to manage anxiety. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors - or SSRI's - such as: Paxil, Celexa, Luvox, Prozac, and Zoloft are often used to elevate symptoms. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil and Doxepin may be used as well. 

Some psychiatrists may choose to prescribe mood stabilizers, such as Depakote and Lamictal, or antipsychotics, such as Seroquel and Abilify to help stabilize symptoms. 

Research has shown that some types of blood pressure medicines can control particular symptoms. For example, Prazosin may be used to eliminate nightmares, or Propranolol may be used to minimize the formation of traumatic memories.

Remember, before stopping or starting any medication, consult your physician, or psychiatrist as they will explain any and all side effects. Do not start or stop medication without the supervision of a medical professional. 

Psychotherapy

In addition to medication, psychotherapy is often used as a way for the person to learn how to cope, and learn how to manage their symptoms. Therapy - a type of counseling - aims to teach the person, as well as their family about the disorder, and help them work through the fears associated with the traumatic event. A variety of approaches are used to treat people with PTSD, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to negative emotions, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: a type of behavioral therapy that involves having the person relive the traumatic experience, or exposing the person to objects and/or situations that cause anxiety. Prolonged Exposure Therapy is done in a safe environment, where the patient is well controlled. This type of therapy helps the patient confront the fear and gradually become more comfortable with situations that are frightening and cause anxiety in them. This has been the most successful therapy in treating PTSD. 
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: focuses solely on helping the person examine their own values and the emotional conflicts caused by that particular traumatic event.
  • Family Therapy: Psychologists and Psychiatrists recommend this method because the behavior of the patient with PTSD can have a large effect on other family members. Working through them together, can help manage everyone's coping mechanisms and skills.
  • Group Therapy: allows the person to share thoughts, fears, and feelings with others who have experienced traumatic events and may be suffering with PTSD as well.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: or EMDR, is a complex form of psychotherapy that is designed to alleviate distress that is associated with traumatic memories, and can now also be used to treat phobias.
KEY TAKEAWAY: It is critical to visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of PTSD. Treatment and help is available to you. Do NOT choose to suffer alone, and most importantly, know that you ARE NOT alone. There are many people going through this disorder, or any form of mental illness, that are ready and willing to lend you a helping hand. Be patient with yourself and your physician. Recovery can take time, but it is definitely within reach.   

Here at Mountainside Medical Equipment, we are proud to be a certified Service Disable Veteran - Owned Small Business. Our President, Martin J. Zarnock Sr. served in the United States Army as Staff Sergeant and was deployed to Vietnam from August 1968 until August 1970. We sincerely thank him, and appreciate his service.