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PTSD Awareness Month

June is recognized as PTSD Awareness Month. National PTSD Awareness Day is celebrated annually on June 27th. The day was established in 2010 by the United States Senate to raise awareness of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to eliminate the stigma associated with it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real disorder that develops when a person has experienced or witnessed a scary, shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. It can affect people physically and emotionally; how they see themselves, others, and the world around them. Symptoms may include, but are NOT limited to flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months, or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD. Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function.

People of all ages can have PTSD.

There are some factors that do make you more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event:

  • Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma

  • Having experienced other trauma earlier in life, such as childhood abuse

  • Having a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events, such as military personnel and first responders

  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression

  • Having problems with substance misuse, such as excess drinking or drug use

  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends

  • Having blood relatives with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression

The most common events leading to the development of PTSD include:

  • Combat exposure

  • Childhood physical abuse

  • Sexual violence

  • Physical assault

  • Being threatened with a weapon

  • An accident

  • Many other traumatic events also can lead to PTSD, such as fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life-threatening events.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can disrupt your whole life — your job, your relationships, your health and your enjoyment of everyday activities. And if that's not enough it can also lead to other mental health problems, such as:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Issues with drugs or alcohol use

  • Eating disorders

  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

As mentioned above PTSD symptoms can start a month after the traumatic event or not appear until years after the event. Symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)

  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world

  • Hopelessness about the future

  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

  • Feeling detached from family and friends

  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  • Feeling emotionally numb

Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:

  • Being easily startled or frightened

  • Always being on guard for danger

  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior

  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:

  • Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play

  • Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event

PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have more PTSD symptoms when you're stressed in general, or when you come across reminders of what you went through. For example, you may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences. Or you may see a report on the news about a sexual assault and feel overcome by memories of your own assault/abuse.

If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month and/or you feel you're having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.

  • Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.

  • Contact a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.

  • Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.

*** If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911

or your local emergency number immediately. ***

If you know someone who's in danger of attempting suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person to keep him or her safe. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Although it may take a while to feel benefits from therapy or medications, treatment can be effective and most people do recover. Recovery is different for everyone depending on what they've experienced but give yourself grace. Remind yourself that it takes time. Following your treatment plan and routinely communicating with your mental health professional will help move you forward.

The following actions can assist you in your recovery from PTSD:

  • Get professional help right away. The longer a person with PTSD goes without treatment, the harder it can be to heal. The best place to start is to see a Trauma Therapist or at the very least a mental health professional. They can confirm the diagnosis and evaluate your need for medicine. Employee-assistance programs, police departments, healthcare providers, and crisis hotlines can recommend counselors (therapists) in your area. A therapist may teach relaxation methods and help you understand and change the mental processes that lead to PTSD. They can also provide a safe place for you and your family to talk about and learn to cope with your PTSD.

  • Be patient with yourself. Realize this will be a hard time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you've experienced.

  • Talk about it. People who have gone through tragedy need to work through their pain. Often this means telling the same story over and over for days, weeks, or even months. But depending on the event that set off your PTSD, it may be best to talk with a therapist about issues related to the event itself. It's great if you have family and friends you can talk to but your therapist will understand more the trauma and its effects.

  • Spend time with others. Attend a place of worship, book club, exercise/yoga class, or other gatherings as often as you can.

  • Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and try to get enough sleep. When you're stressed you're more open to illness. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep can help you stay well. Regular exercise can relieve depression and stress.

  • Try relaxation methods. These can include full-body relaxation or breathing exercises, meditation, stretching, yoga, listening to quiet music, and spending time in nature settings.

  • Join a support group. Being in a group with other people who have PTSD may help reduce isolation. It can also help rebuild your trust in others.

  • Stay away from negative coping actions. These include using drugs or alcohol, workaholism, violent behavior, and angry intimidation of others. These may seem to help by giving quick relief, but they make the illness worse and make recovery more difficult.

  • Get involved. Volunteer to help at the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, or other charitable groups. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose.

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