PTSD made headlines recently when Donald Trump insinuated some veterans couldn’t “handle” the stress of combat as well as those who were psychologically stronger.
But PTSD isn’t a matter of emotional fortitude. In response to Trump’s comment, David Maulsby, executive director of the Texas-based PTSD Foundation of America, told The Associated Press, “PTSD is basically a rewiring of the brain as the result of trauma or prolonged trauma.”
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs website defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event such as combat, a natural disaster or a sexual assault.
The National Center for PTSD publication, “Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment,” estimates at least half of all Americans experience a traumatic event during their lives and that 1 in 10 men and 2 in 10 women will develop PTSD as a result.
Certain criteria predispose a person to developing PTSD, including intense or long-lasting trauma, being injured during the event, or having a strong reaction to the event, such as shaking, vomiting or feeling emotionally detached from their surroundings.
The publication identifies four types of PTSD symptoms.
▪ Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). Sufferers have bad memories, nightmares and flashbacks.
▪ Avoiding situations that remind sufferers of the event.
▪ Increased negative beliefs and feelings. Sufferers struggle with excessive guilt or shame. They lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They feel that the world is a dangerous place and that people can’t be trusted. They also can feel numb and sad.
▪ Chronic agitation (also called hyperarousal). Sufferers report being jittery, always on the alert and on the lookout for danger. They have trouble concentrating and sleeping. They have sudden bursts of anger or are irritable and startle easily.
In addition, people with PTSD are likely to experience hopelessness, depression, substance abuse, chronic pain, unemployment and relationship difficulties, including divorce.
Symptoms may follow certain patterns. But each person experiences the distress in his or her unique way. And, while symptoms usually appear soon after the event, they may not show up for months or even years. They may even come and go over a long period of time.
It’s normal to be distressed following a traumatic event. But symptoms lasting longer than a few months and disrupting your daily routine require treatment. Talk to your doctor or mental health care provider to get the help you need.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Exposes sufferers to the painful thoughts, feelings and situations they’re trying to avoid so they can reclaim control over the painful memories.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy: Helps people with PTSD rethink the negative thoughts they’ve harbored since the event.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Guides sufferers to process upsetting memories by focusing on specific sounds or movements while talking about the event.
- Stress Inoculation Training: Sufferers learn skills for managing stressful situations that hinder their daily lives.
- Medication: Antidepressants have been effective in improving brain chemistry and mood. Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety and tension are generally not recommended because they can be addictive and create further mental health problems.
The National Center for PTSD