When we hear about the mental health of soldiers, veterans or survivors of other traumatic or horrifying experiences, we hear a lot of talk about PTSD. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? How does it come about? In the first part of this two-part blog, we are going to explain the basics of PTSD before moving on to talk about healing in part two.
PTSD is a mental health condition that requires a medical diagnosis. It is not something people are born with. People with PTSD have experienced something horrifying or traumatic in their lives. Soldiers who have been to war and survivors of sexual or domestic assault are examples of people who may experience PTSD.
People suffering from PTSD will be triggered by something that reminds them of their terrible experience. For a veteran, it could be loud noises or bright flashes of light. For survivors of assault, it could be seeing someone who looks like his or her abuser. Triggers can be physical or emotional, and may not even be obviously or directly related to their trauma. These triggers may cause them to experience flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety.
There are four types of symptoms of PTSD—re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood. Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares or negative recurring thoughts about the trauma. These may inhibit everyday activity and functioning. Avoidance symptoms involve completely avoiding places, events or objects that may remind the person of the event. It also could involve avoiding talking or thinking about the experience entirely, which can hinder the healing process.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms aren’t necessarily caused by a specific trigger and are typically more constant. They include being easily startled, feeling tense, difficultly sleeping or mood swings and outbursts. Cognition and mood symptoms may isolate a PTSD sufferer from friends and family. They may cause a person to feel guilty, instigate memory loss about the event or lead to disinterest in enjoyable activities.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must be diagnosed by a doctor, psychiatrist, or mental health practioner, and have been experiencing multiple symptoms for over one month.