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What Does PTSD Do to a Person?

A distressed soldier with both of his hand on her head sitting on a couch while talking to a psychiatrist whos holding and comforting him

What does PTSD do to a person? It keeps them from functioning, even after they survive what’s likely the worst thing that will ever happen to them.

After recovering from a car accident, Robert stopped driving altogether. He can’t even sit in his car without feeling like the wreck is happening all over again. Starting the ignition isn’t even an option.

Following a violent assault after an evening out with friends, Mary refuses to participate in social events. She can leave her apartment for work, but she can’t bring herself to leave at night.

Bob rebuilt his home after a hurricane, but he lives with constant anxiety that another storm will destroy his home and uproot his life again.

These people all show symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that leaves a person unable to function in their daily lives. It results from the brain’s inability to process a traumatic event. PTSD often causes nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and withdrawal, but you can treat it with proper care.

What is PTSD?

People with PTSD suffer a variety of traumatic stress symptoms after hearing about, witnessing, or experiencing a traumatic event. Most PTSD symptoms begin within the first three months after trauma exposure, but they can take a year or more to appear. The mental health condition disrupts everyday functioning and severely decreases the traumatized person’s quality of life. 

Many types of traumatic events can trigger PTSD. Assault, abuse, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other traumatic stressors can cause people to experience emotional and physical symptoms long after the actual event. 

There are five categories of PTSD symptoms. For a PTSD diagnosis, someone has to experience a certain number of symptoms in each category. These symptoms need to last longer than a month. They also must cause significant disruption to the person’s life.

1. Intrusion

One or more symptoms for diagnosis

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares
  • Extreme physical or emotional reactions such as heart palpitations, chills, or panic attack when reminded of the trauma

2. Avoidance

One or more symptoms for diagnosis

  • Avoiding people, places, activities, and thoughts that are reminders of the trauma
  • Emotional detachment from family and friends, or losing interest in recreational activities

3. Negative changes in moods

Two or more symptoms for diagnosis

  • Expressing negative beliefs about themselves or the world
  • Feeling isolated
  • Distorting the cause of the event to be self or others 
  • Persistently feeling fear, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Inability to recall key parts of the event
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Lessening interest or participation in usual activities 

4. Arousal and reactivity

Two or more symptoms for diagnosis

  • Feeling irritable
  • Sudden bouts of anger
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Being startled easily
  • Increased alertness
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Panic attacks

5. Dissociative

One or more symptoms for diagnosis with “PTSD with dissociative symptoms”

  • Feeling as though you are sometimes a different person
  • Having an out-of-body experience 
  • Not remembering how you got somewhere
  • Feeling as if time is moving slowly
  • Experiencing dream-like states when awake

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must experience nine of the above symptoms in the first four categories for one month or longer. 

Who Experiences PTSD?

Anyone can experience PTSD, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or lifestyle. About half of all U.S. adults experience a traumatic event, and about 20% of them develop PTSD. 

People often associate the disorder with veterans, and the diagnosis evolved from the treatment of soldiers. The American Psychiatric Association added PTSD to its “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” after soldiers came back from Vietnam exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Despite the origins of the term, anyone exposed to trauma can experience PTSD symptoms. 

A frustrated black male with both hands on his face sitting on a couch trying to figure problem out to a psychiatrist who is sitting in front of him

How Does PTSD Affect a Person’s Life?

Trauma responses are variable. Not everyone exposed to a traumatic happening — even the same traumatic event — will experience PTSD. Trauma exposure doesn’t guarantee a trauma diagnosis. And PTSD symptoms that subside in less than a month are a lower-level traumatic stress disorder, Acute Stress Disorder.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Physical health problems
  • Alienation
  • Nightmares
  • Emotional distress
  • Shame or guilt

People with PTSD often have difficulty controlling their thoughts and may relive upsetting memories. They may have nightmares about and flashbacks to the trauma they experienced. External things, such as places or people, and internal things, such as thoughts and feelings, can trigger PTSD. Symptoms vary in intensity and can change over time. Many people cope by avoiding situations that trigger unwanted memories. This pattern of avoidance can cause issues with daily functioning and can make it difficult for people to live fulfilling lives. 

Other PTSD symptoms include memory problems, feeling numb or hopeless, excessive drinking or drug use, and angry outbursts. Often people with PTSD become extremely upset when they encounter anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. It’s not uncommon for a person with PTSD to develop an alcohol or drug addiction as they try to cope with symptoms on their own.

Does PTSD Ever Go Away?

While PTSD can be debilitating, it also can be treated. People who experience mental health concerns after a traumatic event can seek medical help. With proper treatment and effective self-care, most PTSD sufferers can process their trauma and learn to cope with it. The effects of PTSD do not have to last.

Possible PTSD treatment approaches include:

  • Identifying the trauma and its effects
  • Neutralizing the traumatic threat
  • Therapy
  • Meditation
  • Positive activities

Treatment modalities for PTSD include ​​cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic therapy. 

The sooner you get help from a doctor or mental health professional, the sooner you can start on the road to recovery. 

Factors that aid in recovering from PTSD include:

  • Receiving support from friends and family
  • Joining support groups
  • Developing positive coping strategies
  • Learning to respond effectively despite fear.

You must address trauma, or it will continue to impact your emotional, social, and physical health and well-being. Finding a therapist you trust and feel comfortable talking to is essential for effective treatment. With a professional trauma and PTSD treatment plan, you can identify and overcome beliefs and feelings connected to the traumatic event and develop the skills and mechanisms to overcome them and move forward.

Moving Past PTSD

Recovering from PTSD begins with seeking help from experienced medical professionals.

The effects of PTSD do not have to destroy your life. If you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD symptoms, you can start the path to recovery simply by reaching out for help. Although there is no definitive cure to PTSD, treatment methods, including counseling and meditation, can diminish its impact, and you can live healthy and fulfilling lives. 

Are you ready to take the first step to address your PTSD and start on the road to recovery? Contact ILC today if you or your loved one needs treatment for PTSD.

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