June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awareness month. It’s a time for us to reflect on a medical problem that challenges millions of Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 50% of the people in the United States will suffer a trauma in their lives. Fortunately, the human brain has a wonderful way to deal with trauma sometimes called the “fight or flight system.”
When someone is in danger, it produces powerful fear and anxiety emotions to warn them and get their body ready to fight or escape the situation. The person’s heart and breathing rate increase to supply oxygen to the body, and blood and nutrients are directed to the muscles to fight or run away.
After the danger has passed, the brain releases chemicals to calm the person back down within about 20 minutes. The brain also remembers the threat so that detection and reaction to a similar threat in the future will be faster.
For up to 30 days after someone suffers a traumatic event, it is normal and common for the brain to go through a recovery process. Just like recovery from a physical injury is often painful, recovery from a trauma can be painful for a while as well.
Symptoms of PTSD
Common symptoms include nightmares of the trauma and flashback memories during the day, avoiding people and places that remind the person of the trauma, feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, anger control problems, and guilt. The symptoms happen because the brain relives the trauma and triggers the fight or flight system. Although the person is not in danger anymore, their brain thinks it is.
Eventually, the brain recovers and the person moves on with their life. The memory of the trauma does not cause problems for them. When they remember the trauma, it is remembered with either no emotions or only mild and manageable emotions.
When Trauma Becomes PTSD
PTSD develops when the person continues to suffer the trauma recovery symptoms for more than 30 days. If the symptoms persist for more than one year the PTSD is called chronic. The underlying problem is that the brain was damaged by the trauma and has not been able to recover on its own. It continues to activate the fight or flight system even when no danger is present, and the person cannot control trauma memories. It can be very disruptive to families, friendships, and jobs.
According to multiple sources including the Veterans Administration, the National Institute of Mental Health, and PTSD United, about 6-8% of Americans suffer from PTSD. They experienced a trauma, or multiple traumas, that they are unable to leave in the past. National PTSD Awareness Month is a time to learn about this condition and to support those with PTSD.
History and Causes
PTSD is not a new human problem. It has probably affected human beings since the beginning of time. Scholars have found evidence of PTSD in ancient Greco-Roman soldiers as far back as 3,000 B.C. In the American Revolutionary War, it was called Nostalgia. In the Civil War, it was called Soldiers Heart. In World War I, it was called Shell Shock. In World War II it was called Battle Fatigue. In Vietnam it was called Gross Stress Reaction, then changed to the current PTSD. The names have changed, but the symptoms have not.
However, war is not the only trauma that can cause PTSD. Rape, fires, car accidents, muggings, and domestic violence are just a few of the traumas that can cause PTSD. Each trauma is different for each person.
How To Support A Loved One During PTSD Month
It can be difficult to understand the symptoms and behavior of a loved one who suffers PTSD. Luckily, spreading information and awareness is what National PTSD Awareness Month is all about! Here are a few specific techniques for making your friend or family member with PTSD feel safe and comfortable.
1. Be Patient
Be patient with your loved one during their recovery process. Recovery takes time, and there can often be a few setbacks along the way. Your loved one may become more irritable or less affectionate. Try to understand that this is not your fault in any way, it is simply a symptom of PTSD.
2. Emphasize Trust and Safety
Make an effort to help your loved one feel safe and comfortable whenever you can. This can include creating routines, keeping your promises, expressing your love and commitment, and reminding your loved one of their strengths.
3. Learn About Their Triggers
A trigger is something that sets off PTSD symptoms, such as a sound, smell, location, conversation topic, etc. Ask your loved one about their triggers and help them avoid these situations.
4. Make Fun Plans!
It might sound obvious, but one of the most helpful things you can do for a trauma survivor is to do “normal” things. Take an exercise class, have dinner with family, or go for a hike. Making new memories help distance your loved ones from their trauma.
5. Don’t Pressure Them
Never pressure your loved one into talking about their traumatic experience. Instead, let them know that you are there to listen if they ever want to discuss it.
PTSD Treatment at Highland Springs Clinic
Fortunately, we live in a day and age when there is more hope for recovery than ever before. Evidence-based, and FDA approved treatments are readily available. At Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, we have therapists and prescribers specially trained to assess and treat PTSD. We also have specialized treatments such as Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy), which has impressive results.
During PTSD Awareness Month, support your loved ones. If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, contact Highland Springs Specialty Clinic to start the healing process. The most important step is the first step to reach out for help. You don’t have to suffer any longer. Start your recovery today by contacting Highland Springs Specialty Clinic to schedule your first appointment. Let us help you find happiness again.