June is recognized as National PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder estimates that approximately 7 to 8 percent of the US population will have PTSD at some point in their lives with an estimated 8 million adults having PTSD in a given year. And this is just the reported number of individuals known to have a diagnosis of PTSD! Imagine how many undiagnosed individuals there are in the United States who are experiencing symptoms that are affecting their daily lives. Working with children and adults with PTSD, I wanted to share some information about the symptoms and treatment so more individuals and families can seek help following a trauma.
For a long time, it was believed that only soldiers returning from combat could develop PTSD. This is still a misconception among many people. Anyone can be diagnosed with PTSD if they have experienced a trauma where they were exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. And this does not always mean direct exposure. As the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) indicates, in addition to someone directly experiencing a traumatic event, an individual can also develop PTSD if they witnessed the event, if they learned that the event happened to a close family member or friend, or if someone is repeatedly exposed and connected to the traumatic event such as first responders, police officers, etc.
It is important to remember that not everyone exposed to a traumatic event will develop PTSD. However, it’s crucial to understand what symptoms to look for that may indicate that someone needs additional support or professional help.
- Symptoms of intrusion include: recurrent, involuntary distressing memories of the event; distressing dreams or nightmares; flashbacks when an individual feels or acts as if the event was reoccurring; and intense physical and psychological reactions if reminded of the event.
- Symptoms of avoidance include: efforts to avoid people, places, conversations, activities, objects and situations that may remind them of the event or blocking out memories, thoughts, and feelings related to the trauma.
- Symptoms that affect a person’s thoughts and moods include: an inability to remember the trauma entirely or parts of the event; negative beliefs about themselves, others, and the world; persistent, distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event (this often leads to self-blame); negative emotions such as fear, anger, guilt, and shame; difficulty feeling positive emotions; feeling disconnected from others; and losing interest in activities once enjoyed.
- Symptoms of reactivity include: irritable behavior and angry outbursts; reckless or self-destructive behavior; difficulty concentrating; sleep disturbances; feeling constantly on edge; and being startled easily.
These symptoms need to be present for more than one month in order to meet criteria for PTSD.
After reading the information above, I am sure it is easy to see how PTSD can go undetected. Often, individuals are misdiagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder, especially if they are unaware that an event they have experienced could be identified as a trauma. Also, PTSD can often look differently in children than adults. Sometimes children’s behaviors may be viewed as oppositional, defiant, hyper, or anxious and exploring the possibility of trauma and PTSD is overlooked.
There are also varying types of PTSD. These include uncomplicated PTSD, co-morbid PTSD, and complex PTSD. For individuals that believe they or a loved one may have PTSD, it is recommended to meet with a professional for an evaluation to determine the type of PTSD and the best treatment option.
Types of treatments effective in helping those with PTSD include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Family Therapy, Group Therapy, and Medication. For children, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is most effective and includes elements of cognitive-behavioral, attachment, humanistic, and family therapy.
PTSD can seriously impact a person’s life – how they feel about themselves, their relationships with others, their ability to work, and their outlook on the future. But there is hope in overcoming the traumatic event and enjoying life again when individuals are well-informed and receive the appropriate support and treatment individualized for them.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about the symptoms and treatment of PTSD. Feel free to email me at Katherine@psychologyandcounseling.com for more information about this blog or its content. Look for a blog by the Center for Psychology and Counseling’s summer intern Adrianna Vernace in July. She will be providing tips on how high school students can best manage high school coursework.
Katherine Lloyd, MA, LPC
PA Licensed Professional Counselor for Adolescents, Young Adults, and Families
How Common is PTSD? (2015, August 13). Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.