PTSD Awareness Day

Today, June 27th is recognized as a PTSD Awareness Day. As such, this article takes a look at what PTSD is, what the various types of PTSD are, local resources, and how you can support those in your life living with PTSD. Note: The Sustainable Switch is in no way affiliated with the organizations or health providers provided in this article.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a mental health condition that individuals develop after experiencing and/or witnessing particularly traumatic or life-threatening events, such as sexual assault and/or rape, murder/attempted murder, or combat. During an event of this kind, a person may not have any control over what is going on, and that can make the event particularly traumatizing for them. Anyone who has experienced something like this can develop PTSD – it does not discriminate.

To hear from those who have experienced PTSD themselves, watch the following video from PsychHub briefly explaining PTSD and how those experiencing it can feel.

Video 1 – PTSD Experiences

While the above video covered some of the following content, it is important to discuss, so we will go over some of it again.

How Do You Know If You Have PTSD?

It is perfectly normal to have upsetting or scary memories that make you feel paranoid, on edge, or cause you to lose sleep after a traumatic event. For some, this traumatic event could make it difficult to carry out simple daily tasks or enjoy things they used to enjoy doing; like going to work or school, spending time with loved ones, or having intimate interactions – but most people begin to feel better after a few weeks or months. For others, these traumatic symptoms can begin later on, or they can come and go over time. If it has been longer than a few months and thoughts and feelings from the traumatic experience are actively upsetting you and/or causing problems in your daily life, you may have PTSD.

What Are The Types of PTSD?

According to the United States’ National Centre for PTSD, there are 3 types of PTSD. These include:

  1. War & Combat: During war or conflict, military service members & civilians are exposed to a number of potentially traumatic events. This exposure can increase their chances of having PTSD or other mental health problems.
  2. Violence & Abuse: Under this type of trauma falls sexual assault, sexual abuse, military sexual trauma, rape in war zones, community violence & violence at home.
  3. Disaster & Terrorism: Sudden mass casualty events or disasters can lead to injury, death, loss & survivors guilt.

As well, according to the PTSD Association of Canada, there are 3 requisites of emotional trauma:

  1. It is as unexpected as fog on a clear day
  2. It is something you cannot prepare for
  3. It is something you can do nothing to prevent

Side Effects of PTSD

Unfortunately, PTSD can be an exceptionally difficult mental illness to seek help for. Some individuals experience changes to their personalities or can develop substance abuse problems due to their trauma. Some examples include:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicide
  • Grief

Anger

For those with PTSD, their response to an extreme threat can become “stuck”, which could lead to their initial response to stress being that of survival. This means that a person with PTSD could be more likely to react to any stress with full force, acting as if their life were at risk.

Depression

Depression is exceptionally common following a traumatic occurrence. It can get in the way of accomplishing daily tasks or even function. It can affect eating and sleeping patterns, thought processes, self confidence & self value.

Sleep problems

Apparently almost everyone with PTSD reports sleep problems. In fact, trouble sleeping is the main reason that people first go to a doctor to get help for their PTSD. Both insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep) and nightmares are symptoms associated with PTSD. On the plus side, there is evidence-based treatments that can help with PTSD and sleep problems! These treatments help whether these sleep problems began before a traumatic experience or if it only came about after the event.

This is an incredibly important element of PTSD to approach because poor sleep can have many impacts on an individual. This can include:

  • Slow reaction times
  • Trouble with learning & memory
  • Feeling irritable & mood problems
  • Trouble with thinking & concentration
  • Thinking about suicide or acting in ways that self-harm

Additionally, long term sleep problems are related to medical illnesses such as heart disease, depression, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity & stroke.

Substance Misuse

Those living with PTSD are more likely than others in the same demographic to have alcohol abuse problems, and usually have problems with alcohol both before and after experiencing PTSD. However, having PTSD increases the risk that a person will develop a drinking problem. Having PTSD and simultaneously abusing alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of both, but treatment can help those with PTSD work on both problems at the same time. Substance abuse, whether it be drugs, alcohol, or smoking, is common amongst those with PTSD, attempting to use it as a way to cope. According to the United States’ National Centre for PTSD, studies show that using this form of coping is common for both veterans and civilians living with PTSD.

Suicide

When it comes to PTSD, suicide risk can be linked to distressful traumatic memories, anger, lack of impulse control, or severe depression. As well, suicide risk is higher for those with PTSD who are unable to properly cope with stress, such as not expressing feelings or opting for substance use. If you know anyone who may be thinking about committing suicide or is having suicidal thoughts, it is very serious and should be taken as such. It can be difficult to gauge the level of danger, especially when it comes to a loved one. As such, a mental health professional is the best person to decide this.

Grief

Grief can be challenging for anyone to deal with. While there may be common emotions or ways to honour loved ones, there is no “right way” to grieve. According to the United States’ National Centre for PTSD, about every 1 in 10 people will experience grief in ways that feel more intense or last longer than anticipated; this is even more common for those living with PTSD.

Local Resources for PTSD

The following information is for those living in the Greater Toronto Area and its surrounding regions.

The good news? PTSD is treatable! The not-so-good-news? Health care providers are not always able to link the symptoms with the diagnosis. That’s why it is so important to make people aware of the subject, including those who have experienced trauma and their loved ones. This way, proper diagnosis and proper treatment is more likely.

While going into detail about all of these programs and resources would take up so much space and time, we want to share a number of external links with you, should you or a loved one need to access treatment for PTSD.

As well, The PTSD Association of Canada has a number of excellent resources, such as their self-assessments.

How You Can Help

Lastly, we want to acknowledge how those not experiencing PTSD can help those who are. Some important ways that we can help family members or loved ones with PTSD is to:

  • Be there for them; make them feel like they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing
  • Educate yourself about PTSD
  • Educate others & bring awareness to PTSD
  • Be patient
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Do your best to minimize stress at home – try & create a safe & comforting environment
  • Encourage making plans & discussing the future
  • Make sure to compliment them & help however you can to build back self worth & confidence
  • Ensure you keep your promises – no matter how small
  • Expect triggers & prepare for how to handle them

However, while it is incredibly important that you help your loved one throughout this journey, you must remember to set boundaries, and ensure your safety and mental health.

Conclusion

It can be incredibly hard, isolating, and scary to be going through PTSD, especially if you do not have the support system necessary to get better. That’s why it is so important to bring awareness to the issue, and to provide resources (such as the PTSD self-assessments) to the public. If you or a loved one are or may be experiencing PTSD, please educate yourself and seek help. If left untreated, PTSD symptoms can worsen; this can include addiction to drugs or alcohol, chronic pain, hypertensions or physical illness, self harm, overwhelming fear or death, compulsiveness, personality changes, and self-destructive habits.

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