Minding Your Mental Health
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects people who have survived any type of trauma, such as:
- Airplane crashes
- Hostage situations
- Child abuse
- Wars and combat
- Loss of a loved one
PTSD is sometimes called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue" because soldiers who were involved in heavy combat are likely victims of this condition. It affects 35 percent of trauma victims, and women are two times more likely to suffer from it than men.
The symptoms of PTSD surface after the event has ended, sometimes as long as several years later. A person suffering from PTSD often experiences the following:
- Flashback - Reliving the event with all its painful memories and emotions. When this occurs, the person's attention is completely diverted from the present reality and their surroundings.
- "Unreal" Reality - A state of mind like sleepwalking in which the person behaves as if they are actually experiencing the event again. The person is not completely aware of what he or she is doing. It is like he or she is in a dream state. (People may, though, have some awareness while in this state.) For example: A war veteran who hears a jackhammer pounding pavement may think he or she is "under enemy fire," become fearful, and try to find somewhere to hide.
- Nightmares - Reliving the traumatic experience in one's sleep, usually waking up in a terrified state screaming.
- Insomnia - Becoming afraid to go to sleep if he or she has nightmares.
- Sudden Outbursts of Emotion - Having repeated outbursts of emotions through tears, anger, violent outbursts, extreme fear and/or panic attacks.
- Detachment from Others - Shying away from close emotional relationships with friends, family and/or co-workers. This usually follows a period in which the victim feels emotionally "numb" with few emotional responses and is only able to do routine, mechanical things.
- Guilt - Experiencing guilt if friends or family did not make it through the event. This is often called "Survivors Guilt."
- Avoids Situations - Avoiding situations that remind them of the traumatic event. For example, a rape victim will avoid sexual contact with a partner, and a riot victim may avoid noisy crowds.
- Abuses Alcohol/Drugs - Using alcohol and/or drugs to block out their emotions and help them forget the pain of the experience.
- Avoids Responsibility - Persons with PTSD, especially those who have witnessed the loss of human life, may feel they failed to protect someone from being killed. As a result, they may experience trouble on their jobs and trouble expressing loving emotions to friends and family.
- Poor Concentration - Trouble remembering recent events or staying focused in thought.
- Depression - Finding it difficult to work out their guilt and grief resulting from the loss of loved ones and/or loss of security. They may also be unable to feel like they are "back in the real world."
A mental health professional, i.e., a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor, should treat PTSD, in most cases. Treatment can usually be done on an outpatient basis. However, if you have become a threat to yourself or others, you may need to be hospitalized for treatment. Treatment will help you:
- Discuss the event and the pain it has caused you
- Resolve your feelings of grief, which you may find hard to express
Types of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Therapies
- Individual Therapy - This allows you to look at the things you value in life and how your behavior and experience during the event(s) may have violated or upset your values. You will work on:
- Resolving conscious/unconscious conflicts
- Rebuilding your self-esteem and self-control
- Developing self-responsibility
- Family Therapy - Your partner, children, siblings and/or parents may need to be included in your therapy because of your behavior towards them. This helps:
- Allow family members to cope with their emotions
- Foster good communication within the family
- Strengthen parenting roles, if appropriate
- Self-Help or Peer Counseling Groups - You may join survivor groups who share their experiences and reactions with each other. This helps to show that:
- You are not alone in your feelings
- Others may have reacted in the same way
- Your feelings/emotions are normal and common to the situation
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) - EMDR is a one-on-one form of psychotherapy in which the patient recalls a traumatic event while simultaneously undergoing bilateral stimulation that can consist of moving the eyes from side to side, vibrations or tapping movements on different sides of the body, or tones delivered through one ear, then the other, via headphones.
- Medication, such as anti-anxiety drugs, may be used in conjunction with the above therapies.