June is National PTSD Awareness Month. We are here to help you understand PTSD and effective supports so that you or loved ones who have experienced trauma can seek help.
Most people will experience trauma at some point during their lifetime. For some, the psychological impact of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event results in the development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rates of PTSD are highest amongst veterans and first responders who are more likely to both experience and witness traumatic events. However, anyone who experiences trauma, including physical, psychological, or emotional abuse; sexual violence; serious accident or injury; natural disaster; or abrupt major life change or loss, can develop PTSD. Individuals experiencing PTSD have intense, distressing feelings and thoughts related to their experience that persist long after the event had ended. Some signs of PTSD include:
· Experiencing persistent feelings of anger, sadness, fear, guilt, or shame
· Inability to remember important aspects of the event
· Re-living the experience involuntarily through nightmares or flashbacks
· Going out of the way to avoid potential triggers or reminders of the event
· Becoming irritated easily or experiencing outbursts of anger
· Changes in mood including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood swings
· Being overly watchful of surroundings
· Having strong negative reactions to things like loud noises, crowds, or accidental touch
· Distancing from other people, including close family members and friends
· Acting recklessly or in a self-destructive way
· Difficulty concentrating
· Changes in sleeping
· Changes in eating and/or weight
· Increased feels of shame and decreased self-esteem
· Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness
· Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
· Emotional numbing
· Becoming jumpy, on edge, or quick to startle or frighten
· Physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
· Thoughts of suicide
In children and teens, additional signs might include:
· Increased clinginess to parents or caregivers, or decreases affection
· Regression in developmental skills.
· Acting younger than their age (e.g., bed-wetting, talking in a ‘baby’ voice, thumb-sucking)
· New struggles in school
· Increased crying, screaming, and/or meltdowns
· Isolating from peers, family, and activities
While it is not uncommon for these signs to be present in the days following the traumatic event, individuals who continue to exhibit these signs months to years after the event may meet criteria for PTSD. It is important to recognize that some people do not show signs of PTSD until months or years later. While PTSD can develop after a single traumatic event, some individuals are exposed to prolonged trauma that lasts for months or years. Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is prevalent among such individuals. C-PTSD may be the result of childhood or developmental trauma, which may involve abuse, neglect, bullying, medical trauma, grief or loss, and/or a high level of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences); partner violence; continued physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse; managing chronic physical or mental health conditions; or living as a neurodivergent individual in a neurotypical world. PTSD and C-PTSD can impact individuals of every age and background. While there are some protective factors and risk factors that might impact the likelihood of an individual developing PTSD or C-PTSD, no one is at fault for their reaction to trauma.
Regardless of when trauma occurs or when symptoms emerge, people experiencing PTSD and C-PTSD should seek help from a mental health provider. While those suffering from trauma may feel like getting better is hopeless, there are evidenced based supports that have been proven to help people heal. For example, some medications may be helpful in managing feelings of depression or anxiety, while others may be helpful in reducing nightmares and other re-experiencing of events. Additionally, therapeutic supports such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Virtual Reality – Graded Exposure Therapy (VR-GET), Mindfulness, and Expressive Arts therapies have shown to be effective in treating PTSD. For children experiencing C-PTSD or developmental trauma, the Neurosequential Model of Therapy may also be effective.
If you or a loved one is struggling after experiencing trauma, please reach out to us. We are here to help!
Some helpful resources include:
Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255, option 1 or text 838255
Trauma in children:
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry
Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Dr. Jaclyn Halpern
Director/Co-Founder, The SOAR for Psychotherapy and Testing; Licensed Psychologist & Clinical Supervisor
Rebecca Liberty, MS