Trauma is an event that feels like an immense threat, which can affect people in different ways. For example, a distressing incident can lead to frightening reactions, but with the passage of time the symptoms begin to reduce as a part of the body’s natural healing and recovery process.
Trauma can also make a person more vulnerable to developing problems with both physical health as well as long term chronic illness, which can make it even harder to cope with it.
In the case of Post-traumatic disorder, or PTSD, the mental health conditions are a result of a terrifying event, whether experienced or seen first hand, in which the symptoms linger on for months or even years and disrupt the day to day functioning of the affected individual.
The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder says that PTSD is a common condition among 10% of women and 4% of men at some point in their lives.
PTSD symptoms may start soon after a traumatic event, but in some cases may not appear even after a month. Moreover, symptoms vary over time and differ from one person to another. PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into the four following types and one may express one of the following or all of them:
- Avoidance: This is a common symptom of trauma but can cause problems due to its inability to heal after trauma. Some symptoms of avoidance are resisting thoughts about traumatic events and avoiding people or places where the act took place.
- Physical and emotional changes: These are termed as arousal symptoms which emerge in trauma and can cause a person to be easily startled, feel as if one is in constant danger, inability to sleep or concentrate and a feeling of guilt and shame.
At times these symptoms are aggravated by feelings of self-destruction and substance abuse or participating in activities like skydiving or driving recklessly which can endanger life.
- Negative moods and thoughts: Feelings of hopelessness and negative thinking about the world in general are associated with trauma. Detachment from friends and family members and having difficulty in retaining key details of your experience are all negative points.If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should reach out for help.
Common mental health effects of trauma
Some of the common effects of trauma which can be easily recognized are:
- Panic attacks: These attacks are a type of fear response where physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include pounding of the heart, feeling light-headed, sweating, trembling, pain in the chest or a feeling that the legs are turning to jelly.
- Flashbacks: This is a vivid experience where you relieve some past aspects of a traumatic event as if it is happening at the moment. Flashbacks might involve experiencing sounds connected to trauma, feeling sensations of pain and pressure and emotional thoughts that you felt during trauma.
- Dissociation: This is the way your mind feels when overwhelmed by stress. You may feel left out, feel numb and detached from your body and feel the world around you is unreal.
A physical and psychological evaluation is the first step in diagnosing PTSD as well as meeting the criteria of psychiatric analysis. Some of the established factors are:
- Witnessing trauma to others
- Having direct impact of a traumatic act
- Repeated exposure to graphic details of traumatic events
- Symptoms associated with PTSD should cause concern if they last longer than a month and interfere in functioning of the normal day to day activities.
Early assessment and treatment is vital to gain relief from the burden of your trauma. There are alot of possible treatments for PTSD, many of which are available online. The two most effective treatments of PTSD are psychotherapy and medications.
While psychotherapy, just as in talk therapy, can involve face-to-face interaction, group meetings too can help people with PTSD in a number of ways.
Opening up about your traumatic experience with a trained therapist can lessen the burden on the patient and learn more about their symptoms without getting out of control.
Talk therapy can also help patients in building skills and re-evaluating their thoughts and the feelings that surround these memories and allow people to feel safe and supported.
Another well-studied and effective therapy for PTSD is “trauma-focused” which involves treatment by stressing on the specific traumatic event, like cognitive restructuring or exposure methods.
Since people with PTSD are often reluctant to face the memories of their traumatic event, they begin to avoid reminders and thus make their lives very constricted.
Exposure therapy for PTSD, therefore, involves a trained service provider to help the individual to gradually confront their distressing moments over a period of time and in a safe and comfortable environment.
The cognitive restructuring process involves identifying the thoughts that are associated with the traumatic act through patterns and then educating the person involved to do so on their own.
Eye movement desensitzation and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a type of trauma-focused psychotherapy that involves recalling of the distressing event and the thoughts, feelings and emotions related to it.
What makes it different from exposure therapy is that this is done by asking the patient to focus their attention on side to side movements involving their eyes in order to activate both hemispheres of the brain.
Length of treatment
Trauma treatment typically lasts for a couple of months. Response may vary from individual to individual, where some may recover fairly quickly while effects in others may last over a period of time.
In addition to medication, family members can play an active role by learning to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and understanding that it is treatable. Reaching out to a loved one and offering encouragement will allow the patient to live a happier and healthy life.
Living with PTSD
Living a healthy life with PTSD is very much possible, providing a person struggling with it seeks out the right treatment plan to manage their issues.
While for some the disorder may never go away completely, there are skills they can learn to ensure that the anxiety associated with PTSD does not take control of their life.