PTSD and secondary trauma

Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is often thought of as condition experienced by those who have served in military combat. Some terms in the past included battle fatigue, soldier’s heart and shell shock. But PTSD is experienced broadly in all walks of like. This mental health condition can develop in anyone who has experienced  or witnessed a life-threatening event, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, sexual assault or other crime involving violence.

 Most people gradually return to normal after a traumatic experience. After an extreme event, it seems typical for people to experience upsetting memories or to feel on edge for a while. However, when symptoms persist for several months – affecting normal day-to-day living – and continue to reoccur, it could be PTSD.


Symptomatic concern is identified when disturbing thoughts, emotions and dreams continue for months after an event or even emerge long after an event. Often the affected person may attempt to avoid trauma-related triggers, such as places and situations that prompt memories. The person will also often avoid trauma-related thoughts and emotions, as well as discussion of the disturbing event.

Other symptoms involve unwelcome memories, often called flashbacks, in which events are relived. These can be triggered by anything that reminds the person on an event, such as a news report of a natural disaster or a loud noise that is similar to gunfire. These unwelcome memories can come in the form of a dream.

Another symptom is an overall mood change. After a traumatic event, an affected person might be sad or numb, and unable to enjoy everyday life, such as spending time with friends. The person may be less trusting of others. Another common symptom is hyperarousal, such as having trouble relaxing and instead being geared up or jittery much of the time.

With proper treatment, recovery from PTSD is highly possible. Actually, the term Post Traumatic Stress Injury is sometimes preferred by professionals rather than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because it suggests that people can heal with treatment, while a “disorder” can imply that something is permanently wrong.  It is also important to not assume that most members of the military will develop PTSD, as  the majority of those who experience or witness traumatic events during their stint in the armed forces are able to manage the experience relatively well and don’t develop trauma related mental health conditions.

Secondary trauma

We know that someone experiencing significant PTSD symptoms should be treated. At the same time, someone who knows the affected person or experiences the trauma from a distance may need treatment as well. While the spouse of someone who has returned from military combat comes to mind for secondary trauma, it is important to remember other possibilities. For example, when a family loses a home in a natural disaster, the children may experience secondary trauma, due to the stress and instability of an affected caregiver. A child can also experience secondary trauma when witnessing verbal or physical abuse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the impacts of trauma, please consider our mental health services, contact us online at or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

A Time For Moms

Teaming up to wash Mom's car for Mother's Day.

Being a mother and being busy are synonymous. Mothers have things they have always wanted to do, things they would enjoy doing when they find the time. Some moms have a “get-round-to-it” list, which may be written down or not. The list usually has some chores or projects, which constantly filter into the lives of moms. But whether the list is called a bucket list or something else, it’s important because it may be a mix of fun and items also related to all-important wellness.

First let’s look at the fun things.

‘Team family’ in Action

With Mother’s Day this month, it is a great time for family members to ask mom what she likes to do. “Team family” needs to be ready. Who knows what she will say? Perhaps it means watching movies all day. Perhaps sitting outside and tasting samples from a favorite bakery. Perhaps it means planting the gardens with flowers, vegetables and herbs. Perhaps it means looking through scrapbooks, talking about childhood and telling stories.

And since we live in Colorado, maybe it is having someone give the family a lift to Vail Pass with bikes so it can enjoy an all-downhill family bike ride to Breckenridge, followed by lunch.

Regardless, the aim is to make it fun for mom. However, as we know moms are always on duty, always wanting to get things done. So maybe she just wants breakfast in bed topped off with the family washing her car. Heck, she just plain loves to have her car washed and save those car wash dollars. And moms love handmade. Show your skills – or at least your love – by making a handmade card.

And of course you can think about what mom enjoys and surprise her. In some families, surprises are expected. Taking some notes throughout the year is really helpful for the most amazing ideas to come together on Mother’s Day. When the family hits the mark, it is richly rewarding all around.

Chores, Chores, Chores

Look to make the most of Mother’s Day, just as mom looks to make the most of everyday. While you may key on completing some chores as a gift, take another step and ask yourself: Is there more that can be done by the rest of the family on the chore chart? What is standing in the way of mom doing some of the things on her get-round-to-it list?

And think of this in terms of time. If mom cooks every night, take a night off her plate, no pun intended. Don’t try to be flashy, just choose some familiar recipes and start chopping. If she has expressed frustration that things keep coming up, and she cannot find time to get to the gym, then give her the choice to add a specific weekly “mom’s day”, in which she leaves a list of chores and departs to have some quality life –balance time.

Drill down and ask these questions: What can I do to help mom achieve the balance she is looking for? What can I do to help her find the time to do things important to her? Does she need space to set up her activities? Does she need time blocked off just for her? Does she need the family to be willing to change habits – dietary or otherwise?

You get the picture. And if you find yourself really revved into the “team family” mode, an excellent book for the whole family is “The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family,” by Patrick Lencioni. The book starts with identifying what makes your family unique. From there, the family focuses on what is important in order to thrive. It is a fun, quick read and suited for all family members with a middle-school reading level.

Remember, It’s Okay To Ask

And for mothers feeling overwhelmed day in and day out, remember it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to ask family members to help more with chores and other tasks. It is okay to ask family members to make tough choices for the good of the family.

For example, if family members do an amazing job keeping abreast of pop culture but the house is messy and the grades could be better, perhaps the screen time needs to be cut. And it is okay to ask colleagues to lighten the load at work now and then. The quest for balance involves the work world and the home front, and it’s important to make sure to urge your workplace to have the correct mindset on work-life balance.

More Information

Sometimes a few tips to find happiness can help, such as online links about habits for motherhood happiness or the array of blogs featured on our website. And remember we offer a variety of mental health programs and treatments. So if you are feeling anxiety or in need of our mental health services in any way, contact us online at or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn more about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month with the Theme “Fitness #4Mind4Body”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as Mental Health Month. The observance was founded in 1949 by an organization called Mental Health America. Along with providers of mental health services around the U.S., Mental Health America shares the message that the issues around mental health and mental illness affect us all.

This year’s theme is “Fitness #4Mind4Body.” The idea is that mental health is affected by many physical factors including diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress, and that positive changes can be made in all those areas.

Risk Factors for Mental Illness

Another of the important messages that is shared every year during Mental Health Awareness Month is that while mental illness can strike anyone, various factors increase a person’s risk. They include:

  • Genetics
  • Pregnancy and birth problems
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of addiction
  • Personal history of abuse
  • Head trauma
  • Certain medical conditions including thyroid disorders
  • Lack of a support system
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Involvement in negative peer groups
  • Homelessness
  • Learning disorders
  • Smoking

Knowing what these risk factors are can be helpful in different ways. For risk factors that can be changed, awareness is the first step in turning them into protective factors (see below). For risk factors that can’t be changed, such as family history, the knowledge that a person is more disposed to developing mental illness can help family and friends be more alert to recommend or arrange for mental health services if mental illness does develop.

Protective Factors for Mental Health

During Mental Health Awareness Month, participating organizations emphasize the importance of factors that can help protect people from mental illness and promote mental health and wellness. They include:

  • Genetics
  • Presence of a support network
  • Willingness and opportunity to discuss problems with friends, family and mental health professionals
  • Strong ties with immediate and extended family
  • Healthy expectations for school/work performance and life in general
  • Involvement in positive peer groups
  • Involvement in community activities Good physical health habits
  • Positive influence from religious or spiritual traditions

The encouraging thing about protective factors is that most of them involve choice, which means they can be initiated or amplified to provide great protection from mental illness. They can also have a positive impact even after a mental illness has developed.

Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness

Another important benefit of Mental Health Awareness Month is that the attention it brings to mental health issues helps to end the stigma of mental illness. Informational campaigns throughout the month provide strategies for eliminating the feelings of shame too often associated with mental health issues, making it easier for everyone to talk about these conditions.

It will be better for the individuals experiencing mental illness, and society as a whole, when it is universally understood that mental illness is no different than physical illness. Both types of conditions have a mix of known and unknown causes, treatments that are more effective in some cases than in others and a wide range of potential outcomes. And, all physical and mental health challenges are improved by compassion.

If you are in need of our mental health services, contact us online at or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn more about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.