Like any medical condition, such as, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even the flu, effective preventative and treatment interventions exist for mental health conditions, such as, anxiety and depression among others. Anxiety is the most diagnosed mental health condition in the United States. One reason is that there are various anxiety related disorders. Another reason is that anxiety follows many life events, including trauma.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster”. Common symptoms and behaviors include:
- Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical.
- Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions
- Intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks of traumatic events
- Avoidance of trauma reminders
- Hypervigilance and sleep disturbances
- Physical symptoms like headaches or nausea may be present
While these feelings are normal, some people have a difficult time moving on with their lives. These symptoms can be highly distressing and substantially impair social, occupational, and interpersonal functioning. For example, strained relationships and decreased work productivity. The intensely distressing and impairing symptoms of traumatic stress are highly prevalent immediately following the traumatic exposure and dissipate over the following days and weeks in most people. Nonetheless, if the symptoms continue beyond a month, this may be suggestive of PTSD. It is at this point where mental health treatment is imperative and where mental health professionals can aid these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.
According to the National Center of PTSD, about 60% of men and 50% of women in the United States have experienced a traumatic event. However, Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops in 10% to 20% of those exposed to trauma. “Populations at risk for PTSD includes refugee victims of torture, combat veterans, persons released from incarceration, victims of sexual assault, and adults who endured repeated sexual or physical abuse as children” (Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, 2015).
Trauma can look different for everyone. Particularly, emotional responses to traumatic events can vary from person to person. Two individuals can experience the same life-threatening event (e.g., war) and have completely separate emotional responses to the event. On the other hand, two individuals can experience completely separate traumatic events (e.g, war and rape) and experience many of the same post-trauma symptoms (e.g., fear, avoidance, hypervigilance, and sleep difficulties). These varying responses are indicators of the complexities of trauma.
As mentioned previously, examples of traumatic events are natural disasters, like the recent floods in central Texas, being in a combat zone, motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, and experiencing a terrorist attack – to name a few. Responses to these events will vary and not everyone will develop PTSD. However, because each individual and experience is unique, we must be careful not to minimize someone’s experience and response based on our own ideas of what should and should not cause posttraumatic distress.
There are several factors that can impact an individual’s response to a traumatic event and influence the onset of post-traumatic distress symptoms. Coping skills, family support, social support, and response to disclosure of a traumatic event are all factors that can impact how an individual responds to and recovers from trauma. Research has shown that individuals with good coping skills and sense of social support have a greater chance of recovering from trauma and a lower chance of developing PTSD than individuals without coping skills and social support. Additionally, positive and affirming responses after someone discloses a traumatic event can increase the likelihood of recovery and decreased symptoms of PTSD.
Although experiences of traumatic events can impact one’s life greatly, it is important to remember that recovery from trauma and PTSD is possible! If someone is experiencing difficulties coping with trauma, mental health professionals can assist with coping and recovery. Treatments that have been proven effective for trauma and PTSD are available;
- Treatments range from taking a close look at how someone is thinking about the traumatic event to confronting a fearful situation.
- Treatments can be individualized and tailored to each individual’s unique needs
- Specialized group therapy programs are also available for supplemental support
- Family members, friends, and spouses can also help! Being a listening ear, non-judgmental, and encouraging to the trauma survivor can be really helpful.
- Helping trauma survivors to include more positive events (e.g., exercising, self-care, gardening, reading, and hanging out with friends and family) in their daily schedules can also be helpful to recovery.
Remember, if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties with trauma and\or PTSD, you are not alone, help is available and things can get better! Please contact your local mental health provider. For psychiatric emergency assistance please contact 1-877-289-7199 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).