Understanding and Overcoming PTSD

Understanding and Overcoming PTSD

During the month of June, we celebrate Pride. We also spread awareness of a mental health disorder that impacts 13 million Americans: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). June 27 is national PTSD Awareness Day.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a common mental health disorder that can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed something traumatizing which impacts how we feel and the way we live our life. Many people who serve in the military develop PTSD, but anyone who has experienced extreme stress and trauma can have it.

What’s it like to experience PTSD?

PTSD happens when something produces a harmful reaction in a person that reminds them of a past event. A sound, a smell, a taste, a gesture, a word or a phrase can lead to a physical or emotional reaction that may cause them to take a defensive posture.

Imagine being in a burning building and at the last minute a firefighter saves you. Or imagine someone beating and hurting you. In the former case, being around any fire may trigger an uncomfortable feeling. In the latter, you may shake and get nervous every time someone gets too close to you. This is what experiencing PTSD is like.

Common events that can cause PTSD:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse (childhood, adult, domestic)
  • Watching a person die or a near-death experience
  • Workplace violence (first responders, police, fire, EMS)
  • Serious incidents (witnessing or experiencing a car accident, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack)
  • Being threatened (verbally or psychically)

Common symptoms of PTSD:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Stressful thoughts
  • Continuous dreams or memories about the traumatic event
  • Problems staying asleep or trying to fall asleep
  • Avoiding places, objects or events that produce a reaction to the traumatic event
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling irritable, easily annoyed, tense or frightened
  • Startled by loud noises
  • Feeling alone
  • Having no interest in doing activities that once brought happiness
  • Engaging in behaviors that puts you in harm’s way

How do we treat PTSD?

Therapy is one of the most common ways to treat PTSD. Each type of therapy has a different approach to lessen the severity of PTSD symptoms. They include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on ways to change unhelpful and unhealthy paths of thoughts toward a certain person, thing or event.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on accepting and validating a person’s experiences and ways to manage and change emotion to move past trauma.

Cognitive Processing Therapy teaches people about PTSD, helps to identify fearful thoughts and memories, develop coping skills, and reveal changes to a person’s thoughts the trauma may have caused.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that encourages a person to focus on a traumatic memory while making various eye movements.

Medications are another way to treat PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) are types of antidepressants that can help relieve PTSD symptoms.

Not all SSRIs and SNRIs are equally effective at treating PTSD, and certain therapies may be more beneficial than others. Consult with your doctor or a medical professional to know which antidepressant or therapy may be right for you. Your physician may also want to pursue other medications, such as a mood stabilizer, to treat symptoms.

Coping strategies may also help relieve PTSD symptoms. Some simple ones to try include:

Mindfulness exercises (deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mediation)

  • Writing/journaling
  • Any type of exercise
  • Listening to comforting music
  • Watching a funny or inspirational TV show or movie
  • Volunteering at an organization that means something to you

For more information about PTSD, visit the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association websites.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health challenge and need local resources, please visit the BHWC resource page to find help.

BHWC Mission

To increase access to effective behavioral health services through coordinated initiatives to recruit, educate, and retain professionals in behavioral health.