Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that stems from a traumatizing event or situation which one encounters. These events can range from assaults, abuse, motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, to combats. Often the victim is a part of the event or a witness to the situation. Most individuals don’t begin to experience symptoms of PTSD until months after the event occurs. Symptoms include having flashbacks of the event, easily stimulated by daily events, nightmares, panic attacks, self-harm, or sleeping disorders. PTSD is a medical condition which alters the chemistry of the brain and causes it to under produce chemicals that allow the body to relax. It can change the mindset of individuals causing them to be anxious or constantly on edge. It’s estimated that 24.4 million people are diagnosed with PTSD in the United States; that’s equivalent to the population of the state of Texas.
While most commonly thought of as a veteran’s disorder, millions of non-veterans are diagnosed each year with PTSD. Individuals who are victims of rape, physical assault, and other sexual injuries constitute the majority of PTSD victims following veterans. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men, with about one in 10 women being diagnosed at some point in their lifetime. Of the estimated 70 percent of individuals that experience a traumatizing event, approximately 20 percent are diagnosed with PTSD. This disorder can affect all aspects of one’s life including physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
There are a variety of therapies that are available to patients to help them learn to cope with PTSD. Most common is behavioral therapy during which a patient speaks with a trained Psychologist and learns coping strategies. While it is difficult for many to first begin talking about their traumatic event, it often is a means of recovery. Alternative therapies include music and art therapy, which are commonly used among children. Therapists guide their patients towards expressing their emotions through a means that is most comfortable for them. The majority of patients see a decrease in the strength of their symptoms, but many live with the flashbacks of the event for their lifetime.
In 2014, the United States Senate designated June as PTSD Awareness month and June 27th as the official PTSD Awareness Day. Teal ribbons have been used to signify these events. Throughout the month, events are organized all over the country to educate people on the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this disorder. Mental health experts encourage everyone to learn the signs and symptoms of PTSD in order to help identify individuals that may need treatment. Early diagnosis will help decrease the suicide statistic related to PTSD which increased by 50 percent for veterans this past year.
PTSD holds a special place in my life following my diagnosis four years ago. I’ve suffered from survivor’s guilt, nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. There were days where I would not leave my house and refused to eat or drink. I struggled to understand why all of these terrible thoughts were always in my mind and why I couldn’t let go of this one particular event. I eventually began to accept my diagnosis and used my writing as a platform to spread awareness about PTSD.
When I choose to disclose my diagnosis, I often get strange looks from people who don’t realize it’s a disorder that affects those other than veterans. PTSD can affect any individual regardless of age, gender, income, or social class. It often only takes one traumatizing event to alter the course of one’s life. I’ve been blessed with a great support system and therapy regime that has helped me learn to cope, but even four years later I still worry that the event could happen again.
PTSD is nothing to be ashamed of. As it becomes more prevalent in the United States, we need to be educated on ways to help these individuals. Please take a moment to conduct a bit of research into PTSD and learn ways that you can become an advocate for its victims. June is only one month of the year that PTSD victims battle with their disorder. Spreading public awareness will help make the world a more comfortable place for those that have been affected. For more information, please visit the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or Sidran Institute.