Is Someone You Know Living with Undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress?
We hear much in the news about post-traumatic stress as it relates to combat veterans. PTSD causes anxiety, tension, mood swings, personality changes, fatigue, cognitive issues and a range of other symptoms that make it very difficult for effected veterans to re-assimilate into society. But these symptoms can also afflict ordinary individuals in the civilian population. Naturally, some people are simply more nervous, skittish or temperamental that others. But often, such traits are the result of one or more traumatic events in a person’s past taking a silent toll. Fortunately, greats strides have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of combat PTSD, and mental health professionals are starting to apply what they’ve learned to noncombat PTSD, giving hope to millions of ordinary people who have struggled with an affliction they could not name.
The historical problem of undiagnosed PTSD
The Veterans Administration reports that post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts between 11 and 20 percent of veterans of the Gulf Wars and the Afghan War, and has impacted about 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans. But the medical establishment only began to recognize PTSD in the 1980s. Prior to that, the terms combat fatigue and shellshock were used to describe a condition that psychiatrists did not understand and the government didn’t want to grapple with. Thus, many veterans went undiagnosed and untreated.
At the website for The Clay Center for Young, Healthy Minds, Executive Director Gene Beresin relates some of his memories of growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a father who suffered with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. Mr. Beresin describes his father, a U.S. Army veteran who had served as a medic in World War II, as an intelligent man with a great sense of humor, who was a skilled dentist, a gifted teacher and wonderful friend. But, haunted by combat experiences, he was easily panicked if awakened suddenly, no matter how gently:
“When I crept into my parents’ bedroom across the hall, I found that if I jumped into bed on my mom’s side, it all went just fine. But, if I even so much as tapped my dad and woke him from a sound sleep, he’d jump a mile high, terrified, screaming, “What is it! What’s happening? What’s going on?” It was damn scary. I learned quickly to go to the right side of the antique maple bed—never to the left.”
Today, medical professionals are informed about the symptoms and treatments that can relieve the pressures of PTSD. Yet, the medical community has mostly focused narrowly on combat PTSD, so many individuals suffering from noncombat post-traumatic stress do not understand what they are experiencing and are not getting the help they need.
What is noncombat post-traumatic stress?
Essentially, post-traumatic stress is the result of sensory overload. An individual experiences a traumatic episode that is so frightening, so horrifying, that it leaves an emotional and physical imprint. The episode can be a single event or a sequence of events. Noncombat experiences that can inflict post-traumatic stress include:
- Auto accident
- Assault and battery
- Childhood physical or emotional abuse
- Fire or explosion
- Natural disaster
- Sexual assault
- Terror attack
- Witnessing violence or death
- Experiencing the traumatic injury or death of a loved one
These situations naturally trigger post-traumatic stress because our brains signal our bodies to fight or take flight. As an article from brainline.org explains, this response “prepares your body to deal with a threat or challenge in the environment by pumping more blood and oxygen to your muscles, and it shuts down non-critical functions like digestion.” The fight-or-flight response is normal and healthy, and although symptoms of stress can last a few days, they generally dissipate, allowing you to get back to normal.
However, incidents like those listed above can be so traumatic that the symptoms persist leading to the syndrome we call post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma experienced in childhood is especially damaging, because, as Deborah Jackson reports for PsychCentral.com, “Repeated adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can change the body, brain, nervous system and ultimately an entire life.”
Symptoms of noncombat post-traumatic stress disorder
If you have gone through a traumatic episode that troubles you for more than one month, it is very possible you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In that case, you might experience:
- Avoidance symptoms — Memory of the trauma prompts you to stay away from places, events, objects or people that remind you of what you went through. You might also turn off thoughts or feeling related to the experience.
- Re-experiencing symptoms — Flashbacks to the scene of the trauma can be mental and/or physical. You could break out into a sweat, or your heart could suddenly race. You can have nightmares and/or frightening thoughts while awake. You may feel a sense of immediate danger when there is no actual threat.
- Cognition and mood symptoms — You could have trouble focusing your mind experience memory lapses. You might develop negative feelings about yourself and the world around you, such as feelings of guilt or blame. You might have blank spots in your memory of the traumatic event.
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms — These are the symptoms Mr. Beresin’s father manifested: startling easily, feeling tense, and having sleeping issues. Individuals with PTSD are also prone to angry outbursts.
PTSD is a potentially disabling illness that can undermine and destroy relationships, careers and lives. When PTSD sufferers are left to their own devices, they often withdraw socially and self-medicate to relax. This often results in depression and substance abuse issues, and can lead to suicide.
But even milder cases of PTSD can cause chronic fatigue, irritability, and the feeling that you’re carrying the weight of the world around on your shoulders. When undiagnosed and untreated, even mild PTSD can diminish your enjoyment of life. Fortunately, treatments are available to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, so you can free yourself from past trauma and enjoy a more hopeful future.
October is Mental Health Month
At Wellbeing Coaches, we wish you and your loved ones the best of mental health not only this month, but throughout your lives. Overcoming PTSD can be a challenging journey. But, a certified Wellbeing Coach can help you get the most out of your treatment plan for a quicker, surer recovery. Contact one today.
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All information contained on this website are for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be taken as medical or other health advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or a qualified medical professional. IN THE CASE OF A MEDICAL EMERGENCY OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, IMMEDIATELY CALL 911.
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