A young woman gets mugged and hit over the head with a pipe. Years later, she is still afraid to go out at night by herself. She has trouble making friends and she is slow to trust people. She has gotten several warnings at work for missing days; sometimes she just can’t seem to get out of bed. A former soldier, when he finally sleeps, finds himself back on the dusty roads of Afghanistan. He awakes in a panic and struggles futilely to return to sleep. Days are hardly better. The rumble of garbage trucks shatters his nerves. Flashbacks come unexpectedly, at the whiff of certain cleaning chemicals. He is imprisoned in his own mind.
Like these two people, more than 5 million people in the United States suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
What exactly is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event. These events can include:
During a traumatic event, people think that their life or the lives of others are in danger. They may feel afraid or feel that they have no control over what is happening. And if the person has a TBI, too, these feelings of lack of control and fear can balloon into confusion, challenges with memory, or intense emotion.
Combat-related PTSD has existed as long as war itself. The condition was called “soldier’s heart” in the Civil War, “shell shock” in World War I, and “Combat fatigue” in World War II. Despite the fact that the condition has been around for thousands of years, it is sometimes still difficult, or controversial, to diagnose.
Signs and symptoms
Generally, symptoms of PTSD can occur when a person re-experiences the traumatic event, tries to avoid thinking about the event, or is experiencing high levels of anxiety related to the event. Some of the most common symptoms include:
As with depression or anxiety, getting the right treatment for PTSD depends a great deal on the individual. Sometimes counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective; medicines known as SSRIs can help, too, like Zoloft or Paxil. Sometimes a combination of both therapies proves successful. Treatment can help people with PTSD feel more in control of their emotions and result in fewer symptoms, but some symptoms like bad memories or super-sensitivity to sounds and lights may linger.
Here are some strategies to help with PTSD:
Sometimes PTSD, especially in conjunction with TBI, can lead to unhealthy behavior like substance abuse or taking unnecessary risks. Sharing your experiences, feelings, and fears with others, whether with friends, family, or a professional, can lessen the burden.