What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by trauma. Someone with PTSD has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. They have symptoms that last long after the trauma is over.
These symptoms can be:
- Bad memories, called flashbacks, that make it seem like the trauma is still happening
- Bad dreams or trouble sleeping
- Avoid things that remind them of the trauma
- Quick mood changes, such as feeling sad, moody, angry, or withdrawn
- Not enjoying things as one used to
- Easily startled, anxious, nervous, sensitive, or startled.
Therapy can help people recover from PTSD. The suffering person also needs understanding, comfort, and support from the people in their lives. Not everyone who has been through trauma will have PTSD. In fact, most won’t. Most people find ways to cope and overcome the trauma. Therapy and support soon after the trauma can help.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a stressful event in which a person fears for their life or the life or safety of other people.
Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include:
- Physical or sexual abuse or assault
- School or neighborhood violence
- Natural disasters or fires
- Car accidents
- Military combat
- Sudden or violent loss of a parent
- Arrest, eviction
- Be the target of hate or threats of harm
Moreover, an event can be a trauma for someone, even if they do not go through the danger themselves. For example, trauma can be seeing someone else hurt or die as a result of violence. Hearing that a loved one has died by violence or suicide can also be traumatic. Grief can be intense for this type of loss. It’s called traumatic grief.
Does Trauma Always Cause PTSD?
Traumas can lead to PTSD, but not always. Not everyone who has been through trauma will have PTSD. In fact, most young people who experience trauma will not have PTSD. But most will feel the effects of the trauma. It is natural to react to a deeply stressful event. Most people will feel upset, and have thoughts of trauma, and other signs of anxiety. These symptoms can be called PTSD-like symptoms. Most people find ways to cope with what they have been through. Some recover quickly from trauma on their own. It helps to have extra comfort and support from the people in their lives. Therapy can also help. As people adjust and adapt, their symptoms improve.
PTSD develops when trauma overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. The profound stress of trauma keeps the brain’s threat sensors overactive. This makes it difficult for the person to feel safe again. People with PTSD need additional help to manage the coping process. Therapy helps them to do this.
Whether or not a person will have PTSD depends in part on:
- How severe the trauma was or how damaging
- The help and support they receive
- If they have a lot of other stress in their lives
- If they have gone through past trauma
- If they have depression or anxiety
- Inherited risks such as a family history of depression and anxiety
After a trauma, a person may have PTSD-like symptoms that last for a short time, sometimes days or weeks. This can be called a stress reaction. Only if the symptoms last for more than a month can it be diagnosed as PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD:
PTSD usually does not go away on its own. Getting treatment and support can make a big difference. Mental health providers such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health counselors have experience working with patients with PTSD. Treatment for PTSD may include therapy and/or medication to help with anxiety, mood problems, and sleep problems.
PTSD therapy is called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or TF-CBT. This type of talk therapy uses speaking and learning activities led by a mental health therapist. It can help anyone who has been through trauma, not just people with PTSD. Therapy soon after the trauma helps them cope well.
Treatment for PTSD often includes:
- Cognitive processing activities or CPT: to help with thoughts and feelings about the trauma
- Prolonged exposure or PE activities: to help someone reduce anxiety and learn to safely face things they avoid after trauma
- Eye movement desensitization and restorative therapy or EMDR: combined cognitive therapy with guided eye movements to reduce the force and pain of trauma. This helps the brain reprocess the memory of the trauma. There are therapists who specialize in this type of trauma therapy.
Trauma therapists also guide parents on how to listen and show that they understand. The support of caring adults helps young people to open up, feel safe and well.
How does therapy help?- It’s a magical room to boost self-esteem!
Trauma therapy provides a way for people to safely share their feelings, tell their stories and get support. In therapy, they learn coping and calming skills to help them deal with post-traumatic anxiety. This makes it easier to talk about what one has been through.
In therapy, people learn how trauma can affect their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They are learning ways to modify some difficult thoughts about the trauma. They learn to let go of any guilt or shame for what happened. People are slowly learning to face things they used to avoid. Therapy helps them gain courage and self-confidence. They use their strengths to cope and move forward.
How to help yourself, if you are diagnosed with PTSD:
If you have been through trauma or think you may have PTSD, you can do the following:
Confide in an adult you trust:
Reach out to someone who listens and cares. It’s okay if you need more time and support for a while. Pay it forward by being kind or helpful to someone else. Help also makes the helper feel good.
Get treatment for PTSD or trauma:
This can help you cope with what you have been through. It can help you discover strengths you didn’t even know you had. Your parent, doctor, or school counselor can help you find the right person to work with.
Practice relaxation techniques- befriend nature!
Take time each day to take a few slow breaths. If you can, make the exhalation just slightly longer than the inhalation. Try this: Breathe in for a count of 3. Breathe out for a count of 5. Take 3-4 breaths like this. It seems so simple. But it has a powerful benefit. Helps reset the brain’s threat sensor. The benefits add up, so practice it often.
Do things you enjoy:
Trauma can make it difficult to feel the positive emotions that naturally help you recharge. Play, laugh, enjoy nature, make music or art, and cook. These activities can reduce stress, and build your resilience. They’ll even help you be a better student when it’s time to focus. Know that you can do it. Believe in yourself. Everyone has the ability to adapt and grow, even in the face of difficult challenges. It takes patience and effort. And there are people who will help you. Get out of your shell and try to live again!