June is National PTSD Awareness Month

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To honor our veterans, we’re hosting a campaign all month to educate and raise awareness about PTSD. We’re also raising money for The Independence Fund, an organization committed to empowering our veterans suffering from injuries, illness, and PTSD. We’re matching donations up to $1,000 raised here. Please consider giving to improving the lives of Veterans.

We also thought we’d share some information about PTSD and its impact on veterans.

What is PTSD?

PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that results from experiencing a traumatic event. This includes any event that is experienced personally, witnessed, or learned about that causes feelings of extreme fear, helplessness, or horror.

Those who serve in the military are exposed to traumas many non-veterans will never experience, like combat and missions that put their lives at risk.

How common is PTSD?

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20% of veterans who fought in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) suffer from PTSD.

To clarify, nearly everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping and may experience PTSD symptoms for a period of time — not just veterans.

Over time, a process of recovery occurs naturally and PTSD symptoms resolve on their own. For some, however, the symptoms persist and become interfering and distressing. PTSD is diagnosed when the symptoms last for at least one month.

What are some symptoms of PTSD?

There are four types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not be exactly the same for everyone. Each person experiences symptoms in their own way.

  1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. They can feel very real and scary. This can take the form of:
    1. Nightmares
    2. Flashbacks (the feeling that you’re going through the event again)
    3. Triggers (seeing, hearing, or smelling something that causes you to relive the event)
  2. Avoiding things that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people remind you of the trauma event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. This might look like:
    1. Avoiding crowds, because they feel dangerous
    2. Avoiding driving if you were in a car accident or if your military convoy was bombed
    3. Avoiding watching movies about earthquakes, tornadoes, or war films if you have experienced one of these
    4. Staying very busy or avoiding getting help so you don’t have to think or talk about the event
  3. Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event. The way you think about yourself and others may become more negative because of the trauma. Some thoughts and feelings might be:
    1. Numbness—you might be unable to have positive or loving feelings toward other people—and lose interest in things you used to enjoy
    2. You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them
    3. You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted
    4. You may feel guilt or shame about the event, wishing you had done more to keep it from happening
  4. Feeling on edge or keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. You might:
    1. Have a hard time sleeping
    2. Find it hard to concentrate
    3. Be startled by a loud noise or surprise
    4. Act in unhealthy ways, like smoking, abusing drugs or alcohol, or driving aggressively
      PTSD is often treatable. Talk to a doctor or mental health care provider (like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker) if your symptoms:

What are some symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD is often treatable. Talk to a doctor or mental health care provider (like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker) if your symptoms:

  • Last longer than a few months
  • Are very upsetting
  • Disrupt your daily life

For most people, PTSD treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Both trauma-focused psychotherapy (also called counseling or talk therapy) and medication are proven to treat PTSD. The two are often combined for even more effective treatment.

Trauma-Focused Psychotherapy: This treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. The three most effective types of trauma-focused psychotherapy are:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. This will help you get more control over your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You also go to places or do every day things you may have been avoiding because they remind you of the trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories.

Medications for PTSD: Some specific SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), which are used for depression, can work for PTSD. These include sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Because of the avoidant component of PTSD, patients often hesitate to seek care and may present only after secondary medical or psychiatric problems have developed.

If left untreated, PTSD can cause irrevocable damage in a person’s life. If you’re not sure if you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, you can start by taking this self-screening test.

If you’d like to help us support veterans who are struggling, please consider donating here during June.

Thank you for your service, veterans!