In 2010, Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day and in 2014, the Senate designated the full month of June for National PTSD Awareness. The purpose of this designation is to encourage everyone to raise public awareness of PTSD and effective treatments. We can all help those affected by PTSD.
When someone is in danger, it is natural and normal to feel afraid. This fear triggers the fight-or-flight response, causing split-second changes in the body to help it prepare against danger or to avoid it. This stress response is a healthy reaction that is meant to protect a person from harm. However, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the body’s reaction is super-charged or damaged, making the person feel stressed or frightened even when there is no danger present.
PTSD usually develops when someone has experienced a terrifying ordeal that involves the threat of harm or actual physical harm. This harm (or threat) may have occurred with the person who experiences PTSD, or the person may have witnessed an event that harmed (or threatened to harm) a loved one or strangers.
How Does PTSD Occur?
PTSD first came to national awareness in relation to war veterans, but it can result from many types of traumatic events, such as the following:
- rape or sexual abuse
- exposure to combat
- sudden unexpected death of a loved one
- experiencing a life-threatening diagnosis
- extensive or mutilating surgery (such as an amputation or mastectomy)
- being physically attacked
- being kidnapped or held captive
- child or domestic abuse
- explosions and fires
- life-threatening epidemics and radiation
- terrorist attacks and war
- car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings
- natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, or fires
Not everyone who has been through a dangerous event experiences PTSD. In fact, most people will not develop the disorder. The risk factors that play a role in whether a person will, or will not, have PTSD include the following:
- living through a dangerous event or trauma
- having a history of mental illness
- getting hurt
- seeing people hurt or killed
- feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
- having little or no social support after the event
- dealing with extra stress after the event (such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home)
Resilience factors that reduce the risk of PTSD include the following:
- having social support from other people (such as friends and loved ones)
- finding a support group after a traumatic event
- feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
- having a coping strategy or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
In addition to psychotherapy and medication, there are integrative therapies that have been useful in treatment of PTSD.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
In EMDR, the therapist moves his or her fingers back and forth in front of the patient’s face and asks him or her to follow these hand motions with the eyes. At the same time, the therapist will ask the patient to recall a disturbing event, including the emotions and body sensations that accompany the recall. Gradually, the therapist asks the patient to shift his or her thoughts to more pleasant ones. Some therapists may use alternatives to finger movements, including hand or toe tapping, or musical tones. The concept behind EMDR is that it weakens the effects of negative emotions.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
Hypnosis can help PTSD victims with the following:
- accessing memories and positively restructuring those memories
- facing the traumatic experience by embedding it in a new context
- acknowledging helplessness during the event
- linking the traumatic experience with positive memories, such as self-protection efforts, affection for friends who were killed, or the ability to control the environment at other times
- increasing coping skills
- improving sleep
- reducing pain complaints
- reducing symptoms of anxiety and dissociation
- promoting a sense of competency
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a technique to manage stress utilizing meditation, mindfulness, and awareness of the breath and body, has also been shown to reduce the incidence of the following:
- negative automatic thoughts
- dysfunctional attitudes
Acupuncture has been used in combat situations as well as clinical situations to assist individuals with PTSD. Results of this type of therapy have been inconclusive, but some studies have demonstrated the following:
- reduction in headaches
- reduced pain
- improved sleep
- diminished apathy
- increased sense of calm
The therapeutic benefits of this canine-human partnership have resulted in the following:
- less anxiety and depression
- increased patience, impulse control, emotional regulation
- improved sleep
- decreased dependence on pain medications
- greater sociability
- improved outlook
- renewed sense of life purpose
- decrease in emotional numbness
- decreased startle responses
- improved parenting skills and family dynamics
Journaling is beneficial for individuals struggling with PTSD since they often go to great lengths to avoid thinking or talking about their feelings and what triggers their symptoms. What is more effective than describing the specifics of the event (which can exacerbate the symptoms) is writing about the symptoms themselves, how they manifest in the individual’s life, and how they impact the individual’s day-to-day existence.
With a greater understanding of PTSD, we can better recognize the symptoms, support those who struggle with it, and help them get the care they need.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can:
- Call 9-1-1
- Go to the nearest Emergency Room
- Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
If you are interested in learning more about this disorder, check out ALLEGRA Learning’s course entitled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or our many other courses relating to the treatment of PTSD, including courses on Meditation, Acupuncture, Animal-Assisted Therapy, and Journaling.