Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that arises after a traumatic or distressing event. A person who has witnessed or experienced a severe accident, an act of violence or terrorism, war, fire, rape, or sexual abuse may develop PTSD.
PTSD manifests as strong, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the event that continues long after. An individual with PTSD may experience several emotions, including anger, fear, and sadness. Relieving the events through flashbacks or nightmares is also common.
Traumatic events happen frequently, and up to 70% of adults will witness or experience some traumatic event in their lifetime, and 20% of people who have experienced a traumatic event will eventually develop PTSD. Around eight million Americans have PTSD every year. Women are far more likely than men to develop PTSD. About 5% of people develop PTSD as adolescents.
PTSD diagnosis involves direct or indirect exposure to a distressing circumstance. Exposure may occur in several ways:
- Directly experiencing a disturbing event
- Witnessing an event happening to someone else
- Learning about an event happening to someone close
- Repeated exposure to graphic details of a traumatic event, for instance, the case of police officers who investigate cases of murder or sexual violence repeatedly
PTSD treatment aims to improve patients’ symptoms and equip them with coping skills while restoring their sense of self. Treatment today is frequently a combination of psychotherapy, medications, and alternative therapies. Innovative approaches to PTSD therapy such as virtual reality exposure are steadily gaining prominence.
Symptoms Of PTSD
PTSD symptoms are grouped into four classes with varying levels of severity. These symptoms must last for more than a month and disrupt a person’s daily life before a definitive diagnosis can be made.
Intrusive thoughts are involuntary memories of the event in the form of flashbacks or nightmares. These memories may be intense and give the feeling of reliving the event.
PTSD patients tend to avoid people, places, things, or activities that may trigger memories of the event. They may also try to avoid speaking or thinking about the event.
Alterations In Cognition and Mood
Patients may not recollect significant parts of the event, especially those chiefly responsible for the trauma. They may also be moody and unable to take pleasure in things and activities they once enjoyed.
Alteration In Arousal and Activity
People with PTSD may become suddenly reckless, irritable, and suspicious. They may also be prone to bursts of anger and panic.
Treatment Of PTSD
While there is no definitive cure for the condition, significant progress has been made in treating PTSD symptoms. The goal of therapy is to alleviate and, if possible, eliminate the symptoms associated with PTSD.
Psychotherapeutic techniques have shown tremendous levels of effectiveness in treating PTSD symptoms.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive processing therapy attempts to correct the perceptions of the traumatic experience and how the patient tries to cope with the mental and emotional aspects of the trauma. The therapist works with the patients in processing specific points that may prevent recovery.
If the patient has formed a wrong belief, such as “It was my fault” or “I am not good enough” due to the incident, the therapist helps the patient face those thoughts and tries to modify them.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common type of talk therapy that finds the connection between an individual’s thoughts, emotions and behavior. Unhelpful thought patterns are identified, and the therapist tries to bring the patient to a point where they are in complete control of their thoughts.
Stress Inoculation Therapy
Stress inoculation therapy attempts to equip the patient with coping skills required to face trauma triggers whenever they arise. Therapists achieve this by exposing the individual to lower levels of the traumatic circumstances.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR employs guided eye movements to help patients process difficult memories and change how they react to them. The patient focuses on the trauma instead of speaking about it and learns to bring up positive thoughts while recollecting the events.
Group therapy involves survivors of similar incidents coming together to discuss their experiences and feelings in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. This type of therapy aims to let participants realize that they are not alone and that many other people would have reacted the same way and felt the same emotions.
Medication For PTSD
PTSD patients may find benefits from drugs used to treat other anxiety and mood disorders. Antidepressant medications like Zoloft and Paxil have been approved for PTSD treatment. Some antipsychotics and antihypertensive drugs have also helped treat PTSD symptoms.
PTSD patients may also benefit from alternative and complementary treatments.
Meditation And Yoga
Meditation is proving to offer restorative benefits in many mental health conditions, including PTSD. Many users of StuffThatWorks, a crowdsourced platform that uses artificial intelligence to analyze user data, have reported that meditation has worked fairly to very well in helping with PTSD.
Acupuncture finds wide use as an alternative treatment for several mental health disorders. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approves acupuncture as an alternative treatment for PTSD. Research has shown that this treatment to be effective at providing significant stress and anxiety relief.
Newer Treatments For PTSD
Newer advances in PTSD treatment are showing excellent potential in helping patient symptoms:
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET)
VRET involves consistent, prolonged exposure to the traumatic event using virtual reality technology to lessen the impact of the event till it wanes with time.
This treatment involves using a recreational drug to help patients process their trauma in a nonthreatening manner. The drug is thought to increase empathy between patient and therapist, making it easy for patients to recall the event without fear, anger, or other negative emotion.
Get The Help You Need
Post-traumatic stress disorder is quite prevalent and can last for a long time after the event. The condition has no cure yet, but several treatment options help patients treat their symptoms.
A combination of psychotherapy, medication, and alternative treatments can help patients manage symptoms and recover from the effects of trauma. Newer treatment approaches are also being developed though further research is needed to evaluate their efficacy and safety.
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