June is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and is a time to raise awareness about PTSD causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options. This month focuses on recognition of PTSD and is intended to raise public awareness about issues related to PTSD, reduce the stigma associated with PTSD, and help those suffering from PTSD.
The Department of Veteran Affairs organizes PTSD Awareness Month each year and helps spread the word and raise understanding. It is easy to help raise PTSD awareness. You can take the pledge to raise PTSD awareness online, use the VA's PTSD image as your social media profile picture, share resources like the VA crisis line, find or host a PTSD awareness event, take an online course or program, share stories of veterans, and subscribe to the VA's PTSD YouTube channel.
PTSD Awareness Month is represented by the color teal. You can also show your support by wearing teal rubber wristbands, displaying ribbon magnets or lapel pins, or customizing a t-shirt or hat to wear.
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What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that some people develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. These events can include a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. With PTSD, the world feels unsafe. You often have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have difficulty sleeping.
PTSD can develop at any age and is developed after experiencing a shocking, scary or dangerous event.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:
> At least one re-experiencing symptom:
Flashbacks - reliving the trauma over and over again, including physical symptoms like racing heart or sweating
Bad dreams or nightmares
> At least one avoidance symptom:
Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience (for example, avoidance of car rides, if you have suffered a traumatic car accident).
Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
> At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms:
Being easily startled
Feeling tense or "on edge"
Having difficulty sleeping
Having angry outbursts
> At least two cognition and mood symptoms:
Having trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
Feeling detached or alienated from friends or family members
PTSD Types and Symptoms
PTSD is categorized into four different types. These types include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative change in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms of these 4 categories may vary over time and can look different with each person.
The following criteria for diagnosing PTSD are described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders:
Intrusive symptoms including the following:
Recurrent, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories
Recurrent distressing dreams
Dissociative reaction (acting or feeling like the event did not occur)
Intense or prolonged psychological distress to cues
Noticeable physiological reactions to cues
Avoidance is described as efforts to avoid distressing thoughts or feelings about or closely associated with the trauma. This can be done by avoiding external reminders such as people, places, conversations, activities, objects, and situations.
Negative alterations in thoughts and mood symptoms:
The inability to remember an important aspect (typically a result of dissociative amnesia)
Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world
Persistent, distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences that lead to self-blame or the blame of others
Persistent negative emotional state (horror, fear, anger, guilt, shame)
Noticeably diminished interest or participation in important activities
Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (happiness, satisfaction, love)
Changes in physical and emotional reactions are defined as irritable behavior, angry outbursts (with little or no provocation), reckless or self-destructive behavior, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems with concentration, and sleep disturbances.
Common PTSD symptoms include trouble sleeping at night, irritability, anger, recurrent dreams about the trauma, intense reactions to reminders of the trauma, disturbances in relationships, and isolation. Healthcare professionals take all of this information into account when diagnosing PTSD.
PTSD Causes and Risk Factors
Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event and can have long term reactions, consequences, and symptoms. Triggers are defined as anything, including memories, experiences, or events, that sparks an intense emotional or physical reaction, regardless of your current mood.
Emotional triggers are associated with PTSD. The cause and risk factors of emotional trauma and triggers vary per person, but generally deal with a life-changing event that caused overwhelming distress.
Causes of PTSD include:
Experiencing a dangerous event
Experiencing a sudden unexpected death of a loved one
Experiencing physical or sexual abuse or assault
Experiencing an accident, disaster or other serious event
Risk factors of PTSD include:
Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men
Genetics may make some people more likely to develop PTSD than others
Living through dangerous events and traumas
Getting hurt yourself or seeing another person hurt, or a dead body
Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
The following will increase the risk of developing PTSD immediately after the traumatic event:
Having little or no social support after the traumatizing event
Dealing with extra stress after the event related or unrelated to the event
Having a history of mental illness
Having a history of substance abuse
Resilience factors are useful to determine how successful people will cope with the traumatic event. If resilience factors are in place, the person is less likely to develop PTSD or at least be less affected by it.
Resilience factors include:
Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
Finding a support group after a traumatic event that specializes in PTSD
Learning to cope with actions and feelings when faced with perceived or actual danger
Possessing positive coping strategies in order to get through the bad event
Accepting the bad event and learning from it
Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
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PTSD Therapy and PTSD Treatment Online
Therapy for PTSD includes medication management, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, exposure therapy, EMDR therapy, and newly trialed psilocybin therapy. PTSD therapy is a combination of medical and psychological treatment. Therapy is a must to treat PTSD and is needed to manage symptoms and triggers.
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, you should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse. PTSD affects each person differently. Because of this, treatment is often different for each person. If you have symptoms of PTSD, talk with a PlushCare doctor today to come up with a specialized treatment plan.
Read More About PTSD Awareness Month
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Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. Symptoms required for diagnosis of PTSD. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663500/
Mayo Clinic. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms and causes. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
National Institute of Health. Post-Traumatic stress disorder. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Help Raise PTSD Awareness - PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/awareness/index.asp