- Posted by Cam Poole
- On June 18, 2019
In our everyday lives, any one of us could find ourselves in a car crash, be the victim of an assault, or witness an accident. We could experience something that feels so overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control.
In the past, trauma was related to events such as torture or abuse, and society, we recognized first-responders and military professionals as more likely to encounter traumatic experiences.
However, mental health professionals have helped us to understand that trauma can affect others too. For some people, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years –this is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
How PTSD develops and impacts mental health
PTSD can start after a traumatic event — one where you are in danger, your life is threatened, or where you see other people dying or being injured. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, but for those who do, the symptoms can start immediately after the traumatic event or after a delay — possibly weeks or months — usually occurring within six months of the traumatic event.
An estimated 8% of Americans − 24.4 million people − have PTSD at any given time.
3 signs someone may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder
Flashbacks & nightmares
Reliving the event over and over again is upsetting. This can happen both as a flashback in the day and as a nightmare when asleep. You not only see the experience in your mind but may also feel the physical sensations and emotions of what happened – fear, sweating, smells, sounds, pain.
Ordinary things can trigger off flashbacks, e.g. if you had a bike accident in the rain, a rainy day might provoke a flashback.
People may find themselves trying to stay alert all the time as if ‘on guard’ looking out for danger. They may feel anxious, irritable, have difficulty in relaxing and find it hard to sleep.
Avoidance & numbing
People may try to distract themselves from reliving the traumatic experience by embracing a hobby, overworking, or spending time absorbed in crosswords or puzzles. They may try to avoid the places and people that remind them of the trauma, and avoid talking about it.
A person may try to feel nothing at all by becoming emotionally numb and communicating less with other people.
How to support someone coping with PTSD
The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing for someone coping with a mental disorder can sometimes result in us avoiding the issue altogether. Anyone who is mentally unwell will benefit from your company, helping them to not feel so isolated and more importantly, loved.
- Tell a survivor you know how they feel – you simply don’t!
- Tell a survivor they’re lucky to be alive – it doesn’t feel like that to them.
- Minimize their experience – “It’s okay, surely it’s not that bad.”
- Suggest that they need to “pull themselves together and get over it.”
- Be watchful for changes in their behaviour – poor performance at work, lateness, taking sick leave, minor accidents.
- Be watchful for anger, irritability, depression, lack of interest, or lack of concentration.
- Take time to allow a trauma survivor to tell their story – ask them general questions to engage in the conversation and let them talk, please don’t interrupt.
Living life and moving beyond PTSD
Therapeutic support can be life-changing, and it’s essential a person living with PTSD gets the help they need and deserve. A licensed mental health professional can help them to moderate the impact of the event, cope better, and return to a higher level of functioning.
By expanding our perspective on PTSD beyond the military professionals we can raise awareness and shine a spotlight on the many traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD, thus reducing the stigma of reaching out for help when we need it.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.” – Michele Rosenthal
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