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.
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 communityreachcenter.org 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.