Everyone experiences stressful and traumatic events in their life. But, for some people, the impact of those events is greater and it lingers on. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition triggered by traumatic events. PTSD experiences and symptoms vary widely from person to person. Understanding more about PTSD can help you identify it in yourself or others and can lead you on the road to recovery.
Who Experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop in reaction to experiencing or witnessing trauma. It doesn’t happen to everyone who experiences a traumatic happening. About 8% of people experience PTSD. Symptoms typically develop within the first three months after the event, but they can occur later.
Repeated trauma is a common risk factor that leads to PTSD. If you have a history of anxiety, depression, or substance use, you are more susceptible to developing PTSD after a traumatic event. People who experience mass violence and military personnel are also at high risk. Only 1 in 3 people who experience severe trauma will develop PTSD symptoms.
Any experience that causes great stress could lead to PTSD symptoms. But not all trauma results in PTSD. Two people can experience the same traumatic event and have different responses. It depends on the person.
Common experiences that may cause PTSD include:
- Sexual violence or abuse
- Exposure to extreme violence
- Natural disasters
- Child abuse
- Bullying or harassment
- Car accidents
- Work-related trauma exposure
- Traumatic childbirth
- Life-threatening events
- Loss of a loved one
Any single incident or combination of experiences may lead to PTSD. It’s essential to be aware of how you respond physically and emotionally to the experience over time.
Why Does PTSD Develop?
PTSD occurs when a person’s brain can’t process the trauma they experience. While it’s unclear exactly why people develop PTSD, doctors have identified numerous possible causes.
Neurological Impact of Trauma
In people with PTSD, the hippocampus, which is responsible for emotions and memory, appears smaller in brain scans. Changes in the hippocampus may lead to increased fear and anxiety and problems with memory. When nightmares and flashbacks are not appropriately processed, the anxiety they induce may not decrease over time as it should.
The fight-or-flight response is a survival instinct in reaction to a traumatic event. PTSD experiences may trigger this response even during flashbacks as the brain prepares to react quickly. While these responses help you survive, they make it difficult to process and move on from the trauma.
When the body is in danger, it produces more stress hormones like adrenaline to lessen pain sensors. People with PTSD have consistently higher adrenaline levels, even when there is no imminent danger. Their brains think they’re always in potential danger and can’t regulate to a state of calm.
How to Identify PTSD
Many types of traumatic events can cause PTSD. The trauma disorder is severe and debilitating for those who have it. It makes it difficult for them to function in their daily lives and causes severe emotional distress.
A PTSD diagnosis requires specific criteria, including:
- Vivid memories, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts relating to the traumatic experience
- Numbing or avoidant behaviors of sights, scents, or other stimuli surrounding the event
- Hyperarousal leading to angry outbursts, self-harm, trouble sleeping, or feelings of being “on edge”
- Negative feelings or beliefs like sadness, shame, and guilt that may lead to detachment from things you once enjoyed
If you are experiencing any of these, it may help to talk to a mental health professional about your symptoms. There are many options when it comes to PTSD recovery.
When to Get Help for PTSD
PTSD is perhaps the most severe of the trauma disorders. It’s unlikely to go away on its own. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible is the best way to prevent PTSD symptoms from worsening.
It may be time to seek help if:
- You have disturbing thoughts or feelings more than a month after a traumatic experience.
- You experience increased frequency or severity of symptoms.
- You’re having trouble getting back to your regular life after a traumatic event.
- You have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
How Integrative Life Center Can Help
PTSD treatment focuses on reducing negative symptoms that make daily function difficult. Therapy can be helpful at any stage of PTSD. Everyone experiences PTSD differently, and trauma treatment is individualized. If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD symptoms, contact ILC today. We will help you find the treatment that is right for you.