From the shell-shocked veterans of World War I to tales of battle dating back to ancient Greece, human beings have always struggled to heal from traumatic events. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was once known as a soldier’s condition, and combat veterans have played a major role in pioneering awareness of its devastating effects. However, we now know that most people suffer from trauma—and for 6% of American adults, that trauma leads to PTSD.
Today, Americans are increasingly aware that PTSD is not just something that happens to other people—it’s something that can happen to us. It’s time to change how we talk about trauma, and for everyone to join the conversation.
Who gets PTSD?
In spite of our technological advances, the 21st century is still marked by disease, mass shootings, difficult-to-access medical care, and increasing economic instability. In the face of these challenges, adults aren’t the only ones who suffer: Dr. Kathy Wu, a child psychologist and trauma expert, believes that medical professionals should “assume every child has PTSD these days until proven otherwise.”
There is no “typical” cause of PTSD: it impacts survivors of random violence, victims of domestic abuse, children who have lost parents, and countless others who have survived the unthinkable. Sexual violence, death of a loved one, witnessing physical harm, and surviving natural disasters are all among the leading causes of lasting trauma.
Anyone who experiences trauma is at risk of developing PTSD, especially if they face other obstacles in life. Those who lack social support, suffer from discrimination or prejudice, have previously experienced trauma, or have a history of depression are all more likely to experience PTSD after a traumatic event.
Often, sufferers of PTSD aren’t aware that they have it. They may believe that their symptoms will go away over time, or think that their situation is not “bad enough” to seek help. But anyone can get PTSD, and in almost every case, treatment improves quality of life. If you are suffering, seeking help is worth it.
How do you treat PTSD?
In reality, most causes of trauma cannot be prevented until larger social change (like lower rates of violence) takes place. However, individual trauma can be treated. While there is no standard therapy that works for every patient, there are several treatment options that have been found to be effective.
Currently, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the most widely used treatment for PTSD. The purpose of CBT is to help you understand thoughts, feelings, and fears that result from a past traumatic event but still impact your present-day life. This type of therapy can provide relief from PTSD by helping to create healthier thought patterns and behaviors.
In some cases, symptoms of PTSD can also be relieved with medication. The four most common antidepressants prescribed for PTSD are Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and Effexor. These medications may also relieve symptoms of co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety.
More recently, medicines like cannabis and ketamine have shown promise in treating PTSD. While more research is needed, the success of these medications in treating anxiety, depression, substance dependence, and other related conditions could suggest success for PTSD treatment.
Other therapies that are sometimes used to treat PTSD include prolonged exposure therapy, mindfulness practices, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Perhaps there is a silver lining to the challenges of modern life: in an age of widespread trauma, we are surrounded by friends, family, and communities who understand and share our struggles. As conversations about trauma become normal, so too does seeking help and getting better. In spite of our troubles, we know more than ever about recovering from distress, moving forward in the wake of trauma, and creating sustained mental wellness. Trauma is everywhere—but help is, too.
June is PTSD Awareness Month, a time to recognize that no one should have to heal from trauma alone. If you need support, you may benefit from:
- VA guide to finding a therapist
- Our directory of psychedelic-friendly therapists
- Sidran Institute trauma hotlines
- Psychology Today support group directory
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Feeling depressed, hopeless, or detached from life
- Flashbacks, dreams, or intrusive thoughts about a traumatic event
- Trying to avoid talking about or remembering the trauma
- Mood swings and outbursts of anger
- Being easily startled or always anxious about the possibility of danger
- Guilt, shame, or other negative thoughts about oneself
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
PTSD is a complex condition that is often accompanied by other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good source of information on PTSD symptoms and diagnosis.
Further Reading: Ketamine as a Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder