By Teyhou Smyth (LivingwithFinesse.com)
Severe trauma has a unique way of binding itself to the mind. Our reactions are hard-wired and serve as a defense mechanism from the terror of those traumatic memories.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) emerges when an individual has experienced a significant trauma and the mind and body is grappling with how to organize and make sense of the experience.
A traumatic event can haunt the mind and body for decades.
PTSD can wreak havoc not only on our emotional health, but can cause a host of physical symptoms. Some of the long-term physical effects of PTSD range from respiratory problems to heart issues and chronic pain.
Symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, flashbacks and nightmares often cause people with PTSD to feel like prisoners of their own mind. Even though these are common experiences for those who suffer with PTSD, it can be a devastating condition that has long-lasting effects and can damage one’s quality of life.
What Kinds of Experiences Cause PTSD?
PTSD can impact anyone who has experienced a near death or life-threatening event, or any situation that one can witness that puts another at severe risk of injury or death. Traumatic events that leave one feeling helpless and at risk of serious harm can cause PTSD.
Approximately 8 million people deal with PTSD during the course of a year.
What percent of Veterans deal with PTSD?
Hundreds of thousands of military veterans have dealt with PTSD as a result of trauma endured during military service.
People who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom experience PTSD at a rate of 11-20% of those who have served.
The Gulf War resulted in PTSD for 12% of enlisted who were involved. The Vietnam War caused PTSD for 30% of veterans. Sexual trauma during military service also causes PTSD for 23% of women. Rates of sexual harassment in the military are even higher at 55% for women and 38% of men.
How PTSD Works
When we experience a traumatic event of the magnitude that can cause PTSD, our minds tend to lock those experiences and they become stuck in place. Traumatic memories are stored in varying parts of the brain and impact our fight, flight or freeze mechanisms.
Unlike normal memories in our daily lives, these traumatic ones do not file away over time into the long-term memory folder of our brains.
Traumatic event memories actively engage our working minds, influencing emotions and physical wellness often without warning and with minimal triggers. PTSD directly impacts the size and functioning of varying parts of the brain.
Studies of the brain in those with PTSD show that the amygdala (the fight, flight or freeze part of the brain) is overly activated, while the prefrontal cortex (responsible for emotion regulation, attention and awareness) is underactive.
What are lasting Effects of PTSD?
PTSD can have lasting effects on physical and mental health. Often those with PTSD have co-occurring challenges with depression and anxiety and this can impact one’s ability to recover. Substance abuse can affect those with PTSD and can become a chronic condition stemming from the desire to mask the symptoms.
Relationships with others can also be complex when one has faced severe trauma. Challenges with trust, hypervigilance and intimacy issues can stem from childhood sexual abuse and other types of traumatic events. These experiences can influence one’s relationships and ability to access nurturing and connection with others.
What should Veterans with PTSD do?
Frequently experience relationship challenges with family (link) as a result of emotional numbing and unmanaged anger. PTSD in veterans cause increased rates of divorce, substance abuse, clinical depression, anxiety, violence and challenges with maintaining employment.
Being haunted by flashbacks from traumatic experiences also increases the risk of suicide, which has become a tragic reality for many veterans with PTSD.
There are treatment options for people with PTSD. Though the trauma certainly takes a toll in a variety of ways, PTSD can be managed, and the severity of symptoms can be alleviated. It is important to access support and talk about one’s symptoms with a medical or mental health professional who can help.
Veterans with PTSD benefit from individual and family support options to reduce the impact. As a culture we are becoming more aware of the impact of PTSD on veterans and the consequences for those who struggle with it daily.
my offices in United States and the United Kingdom are available for both in person and Skype PTSD therapy for our Hero Veterans.
Other sources are also available including: Help For Heroes, a great source of support for the United Kingdom Armed Forces & Military Veterans; and in the United States you can contact Help for Veterans – PTSD: National Center for PTSD via their website for their PTSD Treatment Programs.