June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. According to the National Center for PTSD, 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a traumatic event at some point in life. Traumatic events include situations that threaten one’s sense of safety, including (but not limited to) war combat, sexual or physical assault, child abuse, and serious accidents. Of those who experience traumatic events, 7% go on to develop PTSD.
PTSD includes a variety of symptoms that are natural responses to dangerous situations but that persist and begin to impact one’s functioning negatively. These symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, feeling detached, internalizing blame for the trauma, hypervigilance, difficulty recalling the trauma, and an increased startle response.
I tend to think of PTSD as a prolonged response from one’s “safety system” that goes haywire. Following a dangerous situation, it can be protective for someone to be on high alert or having intense memories of the event—evolutionarily, this system is designed to help us predict threats and avoid danger. However, PTSD happens when this system gets the predictions wrong. People with PTSD may start to predict danger in situations where there is none or remember the event in such vivid detail that they are tormented by it.
The good news is that there are many evidence-based treatments for PTSD, including certain types of psychotherapy and pharmaceutical treatments. The National Center for PTSD estimates that the majority of people who received trauma-focused psychotherapy no longer have PTSD following treatment. Additionally, 42% of people who take medication for PTSD experience a reprieve from symptoms.
Help is available. Approaching and working through a traumatic event is a difficult task, but many people can overcome the effects of PTSD. This list includes coping skills and resources for PTSD. And of course, it’s best not to suffer in silence. If you have experienced a traumatic incident and feel ready to talk about it, bring it up with your therapist.
Bethany Kriegel, LMHC, earned her master’s degree in mental health counseling from Boston College. She has experience working with adults in residential treatment settings, helping those struggling with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other issues.
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