According to the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute, 70% of adults in the United States will experience a trauma in their life. Of that 70 %, 20% will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD? According to the DSM-V (the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose), a person must directly experience a traumatic event or learn of an event that was violent or accidental or witness a traumatic event occurring to others or experience repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of an event that is work-related (such as a police officer or firefighter).
With this said, there are many, many people who can say that has happened to them. However, in order for it to rise to the level of diagnosis, a person needs to have several other symptoms.
Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Reoccurring intruding memories of the event
- Reoccurring distressing dreams about the trauma
- Intense or lingering psychological distress at exposure to cues that remind someone of the traumatic event
- Intense physiological reactions to the cues
- Avoiding distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the trauma
- Avoiding activities, people, or places associated with the trauma
- Forgetting important parts of the event
- Persistent and negative beliefs or expectations about oneself (I am going to die soon, I am a bad person, the world is scary)
- Continual negative feelings (fear, anger, guilt)
- Feeling detached from people you were formerly close to
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Irritability/anger outbursts
- Self-destructive behavior
- Hypervigilance (being overly sensitive to your senses)
- Exaggerated startle response
- Problems concentrating
- Sleep issues
For a diagnosis, it is important to note that the symptoms must have occurred longer than one month and the impairments are causing problems for the person socially, occupationally, or in another important area of function, and also that the symptoms are not caused by something else (i.e. a medical diagnosis or another mental health disorder). There are some slight differences for children six years old and younger as well.
So, you could see a fatal car accident and may or may not have PTSD. It all depends on how your mind responds to the event. Do you feel as though your life was threatened? Or, do you believe it was an isolated incident and you were just there to help? It truly depends on how your body responds to the event. I want to add caution to what I just said, just because your mind responded in fear and sees the event as trauma, does not mean that you caused that reaction in yourself. So, no feeling guilty because you are questioning if you have PTSD.
How do you know if you really have PTSD? Seek mental help. Many medical doctors are improving their skills in diagnosing it. However, a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or another licensed mental health professional should be well-versed in diagnosing. There are some online questionnaires that may be helpful, but they are in no way equivalent to a professional diagnosis.
Here are a couple of questionnaires I recommend:
There are many effective treatments to help someone overcome PTSD. It is not a lifetime illness and does not need to define you. Mental health professionals are trained to offer therapy and depending on the severity of your symptoms, medication can be helpful in conjunction with therapy.
Below are a few great online resources to assist you in finding help:
- Go to Psychology Today, search your area, and specifically for help with trauma.
- American Psychological Association has wonderful resources for consumers regarding trauma.
- Sidran is a great non-profit organization whose main goal is to educate about trauma.
There are also several good resources for veterans specifically, as that has been the main focus of understanding PTSD and its long-term consequences.
Here are a few I recommend for veterans:
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website offers services for veterans.
- PTSD Foundation of America is a non-profit committed to helping veterans.
- Real Warriors is a non-profit founded by veterans to help fellow veterans.
If you are suffering from PTSD, do not be afraid to get help. It does not mean that you are weak. Rather, you are strong for admitting that this is no longer something that you want to control your life. Give yourself the grace to allow the professionals to care for you by giving you the tools to move forward from the trauma.
For more expert advice on therapy and counseling, listen to our podcast episode with a licensed psychotherapist, Is it Time for Counseling? A Therapist Helps You Decide (with Dr. Zoe Shaw) – 004.
You’ll also like Why I Can Now Embrace My Past as a Refugee, Posttraumatic Growth: Finding Meaning in the Pain, Why I Share My Story of Healing After Domestic Abuse, The Day Bank Robbers Changed My Life, Grit and Grace: The Official Armor of a Military Wife and True Beauty is Found in a Woman’s Strength.