One of the biggest challenges that face PTSD patients is the lack of empathy by communities, family and even friends. What people fail to understand or acknowledge is that not all injuries are physical but show someone that you have a broken bone and they empathize, tell them you have PTSD and they will tell you that you lack will power. One of the most common advice to PTSD patients is to tell them to “get over it and move on”. What most people fail to understand is that PTSD is not about the sufferer not letting go or not moving forward from a traumatic situation, it is that the traumatic event or memory holds onto the sufferer. Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, states that “We need to do a better job educating people about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for PTSD.”
Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)
Let’s look at this without the complicated medical terms. We all have memories, good ones, bad ones, old ones and new ones, but we all remember certain events, moments and even associate certain smells, sounds and actions with those memories. For instance, the smell of cotton candy could remind you of family trips to the fair, the point is that you are reminded about that event and you replay the memory, and PTSD is no different. PTSD is a result of a traumatic event or incident that resulted in feelings of extreme fear, pain or even loss, experienced as a result of this event. Certain stimulants (sounds, smells, environments, etc.) will remind the sufferer of the traumatic event that they associate with that stimulant. Those memories trigger a number of reactions and feelings such as fear, pain or loss, simply put, the sufferer will continue to relive the trauma that was responsible for the emotional injury. According to Jennifer Chen, PsyD, “People with PTSD may be more prone to angry outbursts, feelings of detachment from loved ones, or thoughts of suicide, which might exacerbate other life problems or lead to serious depression and anxiety.”
Understanding the Trauma
Trauma referred to in PTSD is the psychological injury resulting from an event or consequence of a traumatic experience. “PTSD comes from some type of traumatic event,” says Colleen Cira, PsyD, “It can include things like war, car accidents, rape, physical assault, or even verbal and emotional abuse. Basically, any kind of scary or disturbing event that overwhelms our ability to cope falls into the PTSD category.” These experiences or events can include natural or man made occurrences. During the process of the event, the victim of this trauma is submitted to direct or indirect damage to their human core assumptions and psychological systems. Two different people can slip and fall on the exact same staircase on the same day, one could end up with a sprained ankle, the other with a broken femur. Our bodies and psychological systems are different, how the event leading to the injury impacts us, cannot be compared to how it injured someone else. A traumatic injury to your psychological state is not as a result of weakness, it only means you are different to the next person.
What Types of Traumatic Events Can Lead To PTSD?
The traumatic events most commonly associated with this diagnosis are:
- Sexual molestation
- Exposure to combat and consequences of war and violence
- Physical Attack and Violence
- Domestic abuse
- Childhood neglect and physical abuse
- Natural Disasters
Following the Trauma
Anyone can be a victim. This disorder does not discriminate against age, race or sex. Symptoms following the event will differ from person to person. The victim could experience all the symptoms or just one and a few of the most common symptoms and reactions to these events include:
- Nightmares and trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Fear and irritability
- Lack of energy
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Lack of concentration
- Isolation and avoidance
If you are a victim, be gentle on yourself and understand the need for time to heal.If you are the family or friend of the victim, be patient and understanding.Experiencing traumatic experiences impact and stress both the mind and body. Speaking to a counselor helps with coping and processing the feelings and emotions you could be experiencing.