Trauma and PTSD: Signs & Symptoms
Time heals all wounds – or so the saying goes. The fact is, time may have little or no healing power on the often devastating psychological side effects of traumatic events. It could be one week, one year or one decade after the event and life has not returned to the way things were prior to the trauma. Such is the case with the psychiatric disorder known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Left untreated, this troubling disorder can destroy the life of the person who lives with it and negatively impact those closest to him or her.
PTSD Can Follow Any Traumatic Event
One of the most common misconceptions about the disorder is that it only affects combat veterans. While veterans have a higher risk of developing PTSD, it can affect anyone who experiences any type of traumatic event – regardless of age, gender or occupation. Considering that 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their life, that puts an estimated 223.4 million people ages 18 and older at potential risk for PTSD.1 Here are some possible non-military scenarios that might cause people to develop PTSD.
- Being mildly injured in a car accident that killed someone else in the vehicle
- Watching helplessly as your home and belongings are destroyed by a natural disaster
- Being mugged or sexually assaulted
- Being sexually or physically abused during childhood
- Witnessing mass shootings such as the Orlando Pulse nightclub tragedy and terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing (e.g. first responders and survivors)
- Experiencing the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
Stats and Facts
- An estimated 8% of Americans or 24.4 million people have PTSD at any given time.1
- Nearly 50% of all outpatient mental health patients have PTSD.1
- About 10% of women develop PTSD at some point in their lives compared to 4% of men.2
- An estimated 67% of people exposed to mass violence develop PTSD, a higher rate than those exposed to natural disasters or other types of traumatic events.3
Symptoms of PTSD in Adults
Signs and symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into three categories. People who suffer from PTSD can experience symptoms from all three categories.4 Suicidal thoughts or actions are a potential symptom of PTSD. If you or someone you love has thoughts of committing suicide, take this seriously and seek help immediately.
Re-experiencing trauma symptoms
- Intrusive memories that interrupt everyday life
- Flashbacks in which the person acts or feels like they’re in the middle of the event again
- Reoccurring nightmares about the trauma
- Intense distress or irritability when reminded of the event
- Physical reactions when remembering or being reminded of the trauma (e.g. rapid breathing, sweating or nausea)
- Increased distress as the anniversary of the event approaches
- Feeling emotionally detached from others
- Experiencing hopelessness about the future (“No one will ever love me” or “I know I’m going to die young”)
- Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event
Arousal or anxiety symptoms
- Bouts of moodiness or anger
- Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
- A sense of being “on alert” or “on guard” (also called hypervigilance)
- Developing an addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling
Symptoms of PTSD in Children
The warning signs of PTSD are somewhat different in children than in adults. Red flags that parents and caregivers should watch out for include:
- Fear of being separated from parents or other caregivers
- Acting younger than actual age
- Regressing in regard to previously learned skills (e.g. an older child may start to wet the bed after years of staying dry at night)
- Insomnia and nightmares
- Incorporating the traumatic event into playtime, drawings or storytelling
- Developing new phobias that may or may not appear to be related to the trauma
- Reporting physical pain that has no identifiable cause
A combination of traditional and complementary therapeutic approaches is used to treat people with PTSD. These may include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, stress inoculation training, somatic experiencing and craniosacral therapy. Medication can be beneficial in reducing some symptoms, although it is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy.
If time has not healed emotional scars linked to a traumatic event and you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD signs, you need to seek professional help. At The Ranch, we help people struggling with this disorder explore trauma-related feelings and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Although PTSD is a challenging mental health condition, recovery is possible.
- PTSD Statistics. PTSD United website. http://www.ptsdunited.org/ptsd-statistics-2/ Accessed October 26, 2016.
- How Common is PTSD? U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD website. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp Updated August 13, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2016.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd Updated June 2016. Accessed October 26, 2016.
- Symptoms of PTSD. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms Updated April 2016. Accessed October 26, 2016.