What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic life-threatening event such as military combat. Thousands of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with PTSD – often called “the invisible wounds of war.” According to a report published by Rand Corporation in 2008, PTSD has affected approximately one in five Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
Sadly, many Veterans must also cope with their negative ideas about having PTSD or what they think others will think of them for having PTSD and this can keep them from even trying to find help and support.
What are the symptoms?
Although PTSD symptoms can begin right after a traumatic event, PTSD is not diagnosed unless the symptoms last for at least one month, and either cause significant distress or interfere with work or home life. PTSD sufferers generally exhibit symptoms that can be classified into three groups:
Often, people with PTSD feel like they are being haunted by what happened to them. The haunting nature of PTSD comes out in the re-experiencing symptoms. These can include nightmares or bad dreams, flashbacks or feeling like you're back there, thoughts and images that intrude upon you, panic attacks when you get triggered.
Avoidance and Numbing
In general, people with PTSD are very avoidant of anything that reminds them of what happened. They don't want to think about it or go anywhere that can trigger them. They may avoid crowded places such as sporting events, concerts, restaurants, stores, and even family gatherings. They might not like to drive in traffic or under overpasses. People often feel and may appear to be emotionally numb and cut off from others around them. They may feel like there is danger around every corner and are just waiting for something bad to happen to them or someone they care about.
People with PTSD often feel that their bodies are on alert 24/7. They can have problems sleeping, feel anxious and agitated, and be hypervigilant and easily startled. Trouble concentrating and being very angry or irritable are common.
Watch a short video that explains these symptoms.
What treatments are available?
PTSD requires treatment by healthcare experts who are familiar with the complexities of the disorder. Because each patient’s experience, biology and circumstances are different, the most effective treatment can vary between individuals.
PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and pharmacotherapy (medication). Sometimes a combination of both therapies works. Treatment can help people with PTSD feel more in control of their emotions and result in fewer symptoms.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
In prolonged exposure, we help the person confront the memory of what happened and learn to become more comfortable with it and with real life triggers. This helps them to be able to think differently and more realistically about it and themselves and the world. In PE, we ask them to go back in their minds to the time of the event and describe it out loud over and over until it becomes easier. There is more research supporting PE for PTSD than any other intervention.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRE)
Virtual reality exposure therapy helps the person confront the memory of what happened and learn to become more comfortable with it and with real life triggers. This helps them to be able to think differently and more realistically about themselves and the world. In VRE, we ask them to go back in their minds to the time of the event and describe it out loud over and over until it becomes easier while the therapist matches what they are describing in virtual reality.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment that involves the patient moving their eyes back and forth on a target, such as the therapist?s fingers, while recounting the traumatic event(s). Such eye movements are thought to help in the breakdown of emotionally stored memories. This is believed to help reduce anxiety surrounding recalling the event and allows the person to decrease distress associated with the memories of the event and find positive ways to reframe their thoughts surrounding it.