By Cathy Massaro, CCM, MSW

The anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone yet the effects of the tragedy are still felt everyday by many struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. The traumatizing event can be something experienced or witnessed. It can be actual harm or the serious threat of injury and or death. There are certain life situations that have been identified that when experienced can create the foundation to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of those situations may include combat, childhood abuse, sexual violence, physical assault, threatened with a weapon and or an accident.

Some people may be more at risk in developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than others. Individuals that experience intensive long term trauma or an earlier event may be vulnerable to PTSD. A stressful job or having personal or family history of other mental health issues may increase an individuals’ susceptibility to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Substance abuse issues and lack of family support can also leave a person open to developing PTSD. The way an individual’s brain regulates the release of chemicals and hormones in their body in response to stress has also been identified as a potential cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

How a person becomes affected by this disorder may be different, the symptoms are the same even if experienced at different times and or intensity. Individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experience flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the precipitating event.  Problems in social or work situations and or relationships are experienced by many with PTSD. The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can get intense enough to interfere with day to day activities.

Research has identified four types of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1. Intrusive memories. These are recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event including reliving it happening again. These can be upsetting dreams seemingly more like nightmares about the traumatic event. This can cause severe emotional distress including physical reactions to something that reminds the individual of the traumatic event.
  2. This is classified as such when an individual tries to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event going as far as to avoid places, activities, and people who will remind them of the trauma.
  3. Negative changes in thinking or mood. This type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is manifested by an individual having negative thoughts about themselves, other people and the world in general. They often feel hopeless about the future and experience memory problems even regarding the traumatic event. They have trouble maintaining close relationships and feel detached from family and friends. Individuals often lack interest in prior activities that they enjoyed. Individuals can have feelings of being emotionally numb along with difficulties in experiencing positive emotions.
  4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions. Individuals in this group are easily startled or frightened. They are always on guard for danger and can find it with self-destructive behaviors including excessive drinking, drug abuse, over eating, reckless driving or erratic risk taking. There may be periods of sleeplessness, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, angry outbursts, and aggressive behavior. These individuals often have overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.

Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder includes psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, CBT and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR have been proven effective modalities for those suffering from PTSD. Psychotherapy combined with medications is  also a beneficial treatment plan.

According to The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fact Sheet published by the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance at sidran.org, 70% of adults in the United States will experience a traumatic event at least once in their lifetime. 20% of these individuals will develop PTSD. Additionally, at any given time, 5% of Americans, more than 13 million people have Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. Statistically, 8% of all adults in this country will develop Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder which is 1 of 13 people.

It is also estimated that 1 out of 10 women will get PTSD at some point in their lives and women are twice as likely to develop Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. The point of these numbers is not to frighten or scare anyone who might read them. The take away from these numbers is to shed some light on the huge number of individuals affected by this mental health illness. People do not walk around with signs on them saying “I am suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder”. They do not walk up to strangers and say “I am having a rough day”. The point being, no one knows what anyone is dealing with on a day to day basis. It is not possible to know. However it is possible to have some compassion, tolerance and patience with those we encounter throughout our routine day. To take an extra moment, breathe and give someone the benefit of a doubt.