Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that some people, especially veterans, develop after either seeing or experiencing a traumatic event like a natural disaster or sexual assault. In the case of military veterans, PTSD often arises after time spent in combat while on active duty in places like Iraq or Afghanistan or as a result of sexual harassment while in the military. Most of the time, survivors of trauma are able to return to normal lives if they are given time to recover. Some people, however, have exacerbated stress reactions that either do not go away or even get worse with time. These individuals may develop symptoms of PTSD that require treatment by a medical professional.
At one time, PTSD was not a recognized medical diagnosis. PTSD actually became a mental health diagnosis through the influence of a number of social movements and governmental advocacy groups. PTSD is particularly common in military veterans but the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service area, length of service, and dates of service. Estimates indicate that between 11-20% of all veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. Of all Gulf War veterans, about 12% have PTSD in a given year. Lastly, it is estimated that an astonishing 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD during their lifetimes. PTSD does not discriminate based on gender, affecting both male and female veterans. Symptoms of PTSD can occur during peacetime, training, or war.
Who Is At Risk of Developing PTSD?
A loved one, especially a military veteran or service person can develop PTSD no matter their age. There are, however, certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing PTSD. For example, the length of time of exposure to the traumatic event or the extent of the injury suffered by a person during the traumatic event can increase the likelihood that a servicemember will develop PTSD as a result of their military service. In other words, the amount of combat experienced can directly correspond to the likelihood of developing PTSD.
There are additional factors that can increase the chances of developing PTSD. Personal factors, like previous exposure to a traumatic event, age, and gender can also all affect whether a person will develop PTSD. Other factors like inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and/or depression, and a person’s personal temperament can affect the likelihood of developing PTSD. The way the brain regulates the chemicals and hormones the body releases in response to stress can also affect whether a person develops PTSD during their lifetime.
What are the Most Common PTSD Symptoms?
Symptoms of PTSD can develop in the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years following exposure to a traumatic event. The symptoms of PTSD can vary widely but are generally grouped into four primary symptom clusters. These include:
- Recurrent, intrusive thoughts of the traumatic event. These include nightmares and flashbacks as well as distressing memories of the event, making the person actually feel like the event is happening all over again. This type of symptom can also bring on physical and emotional reactions like panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, and rapid heart rate.
- Avoidance of things and situations that remind you of the traumatic experience. This includes not only people but places, thoughts, and even situations that the person associates with memories of the traumatic event. This PTSD symptom can be accompanied by withdrawing from friends and family and loss of interest in everyday activities.
- Negative thoughts and feelings. Service members who suffer from PTSD often experience exaggerated negative beliefs about the entire world. They may also suffer from survivor’s guilt and/or shame. Family members may notice an inability or difficulty of the person to experience positive emotions.
- Irritable behavior. People who suffer from PTSD are often described as on guard or jumpy and may suffer from angry outbursts or be emotionally reactive to certain situations. People who suffer from PTSD often act irritable or angry and can display reckless behavior, have difficulty sleeping and concentrating or experience hypervigilance.
PTSD can often increase your risk of other mental health problems including depression, substance abuse, lapses in memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health problems. People who suffer from PTSD sometimes experience difficulties in social or family life. They may be unable to keep a job, have marital problems or have a difficult time getting along with family members.
How Is PTSD Diagnosed?
Typically, a health care professional will perform a physical examination in conjunction with a psychological exam in order to diagnose PTSD. The psychological evaluation will likely include a discussion of the signs and symptoms that you associate with PTSD and the traumatic event or chain of events that led up to the doctor’s appointment. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) contains a list of criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association that is used for a diagnosis of PTSD.
What are the Treatment Options After a Diagnosis of PTSD?
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with PTSD, there are a variety of treatment options. In particular, for service members who receive a diagnosis of PTSD these treatment options include a few types of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy. There are several effective treatments that include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of psychotherapy combines talking with a clinician to see the various ways of thinking that keep you stuck in a cycle of negativity. This type of therapy is often combined with exposure therapy.
- Exposure therapy. This type of therapy combines re-experiencing memories and frightening events with learning tools to cope with them effectively. A mental health professional can use exposure therapy to treat flashbacks and nightmares. One relatively new approach to exposure therapy utilizes virtual reality programming to allow the patient to re-enter the exact setting in which they experienced trauma.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This type of therapy is a PTSD treatment that is designed to combine exposure therapy with a series of eye movements with the goal to help the patient process traumatic memories and retrain the body’s reaction to stressors.
- Symptoms of PTSD can also be treated by a healthcare professional with medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. A doctor of psychiatry can work with a patient or combat veteran suffering from PTSD to find out the best medication with the fewest side effects.
The National Center for PTSD strives to raise awareness about the 8 million people in the United States that are currently suffering from PTSD. Despite the effectiveness of PTSD treatment, many people suffer from PTSD in silence. The National Center for PTSD has designated the month of June as PTSD Awareness Month.
If you are suffering from PTSD, or you know a loved one who is suffering, you should contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for further assistance. Every VA medical center in the United States has trained PTSD specialists who provide treatment for Veterans with PTSD. In addition, the VA provides nearly 200 specialized PTSD treatment programs throughout the country. A referral is usually needed to access specialty programs.
Has Your VA Disability Claim for PTSD Been Denied?
Contact Hill and Ponton at 844-715-4289 to schedule your free consultation with our Disability Services Coordinators. We have helped veterans with their VA Disability claims for over 20 years. You don’t have to do this alone. Call today!
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