Bringing PTSD into Focus: The Power of Awareness and Understanding
Countless individuals worldwide bear the silent burden of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recognizing the significance of raising awareness and aiding those impacted, June 27 has been designated PTSD Awareness Day. It presents an important event to engage in meaningful conversations with our loved ones, deepening our understanding of this disorder and its profound impact, particularly in our community. As we honor National PTSD Awareness Day, let’s take a moment to educate ourselves about the realities of living with PTSD and what we can do to help.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, most commonly known as PTSD, is a condition that results from a traumatic event that has happened to an individual. It is a person’s response to a trauma that has occurred. Two people can go through the same event, but one might develop PTSD while the other doesn’t,” as stated by Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Abigail Johnson, CEO of Johnson Behavioral Health Group.
It is often referred to as the “invisible wound” because its impact is not always visible to the naked eye. The wound is more internal than physical, often left overlooked and untreated. Individuals living with PTSD may carry the weight of traumatic experiences that others cannot see, making it difficult for others to understand the depth of their struggles. The constant presence of intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares can be overwhelming, causing significant distress and impairing the ability to function effectively in everyday life. It is an ongoing battle that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It is a condition that can have profound and lasting impacts on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
How to Identify PTSD
Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), PTSD can be identified using this criteria:
A. Exposure to a traumatic event:
The person has been exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one or more of the following ways:
Directly experiencing the traumatic event.
Witnessing the traumatic event happening to others.
Learning that a close family member or a friend experienced or was threatened by the traumatic event.
Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s), such as first responders collecting human remains.
B. Presence of intrusive symptoms:
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one or more of the following ways:
Intrusive memories, distressing dreams, or flashbacks.
Intense psychological distress or physiological reactivity when exposed to cues that resemble the traumatic event.
Marked psychological or physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event:
Persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli, as evidenced by one or both of the following:
Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the traumatic event.
Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the traumatic event.
D. Negative alterations in cognition and mood:
Persistent negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event, as evidenced by two or more of the following:
Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event.
Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world.
Persistent distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event, causing to blame of self or others.
Persistent negative emotional state, such as fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame.
Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
Persistent inability to experience positive emotions.
E. Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity:
Persistent alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event, as evidenced by two or more of the following:
Irritable behavior and angry outbursts.
Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
Exaggerated startle response.
Problems with concentration.
F. Duration of symptoms:
The duration of the disturbance (Criteria B, C, D, and E) is more than one month.
G. Functional significance:
The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
H. Exclusionary criteria:
The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.
Note: This is just a summary of the DSM-5 criteria. It is important to note that a healthcare professional or mental health clinician should make the official diagnosis of PTSD based on a comprehensive evaluation and assessment of symptoms.
Supporting Someone with PTSD
Often, individuals with PTSD do not require someone who can completely relate to their struggles. Someone listening attentively, acknowledging their feelings, and offering genuine understanding is enough as long as you give understanding, compassion, and patience. It is essential to understand the immeasurable comfort and reassurance that empathy and validation can bring those who are coping with the challenges of PTSD. By extending a compassionate hand, we foster healing and provide vital support to people in need.
While each person’s journey is unique, there are general guidelines and preventive measures you can follow to provide support:
Educate Yourself about PTSD: Take the time to learn about PTSD, its symptoms, and its impact to help you better understand what the person is going through and allow you to respond in a more informed and sensitive manner. Make sure to use reliable sources of information.
Listen Actively and Validate Their Experiences: Active listening involves being fully present and attentive when the person is sharing their thoughts and feelings. Avoid interrupting or offering immediate solutions. Instead, validate their experiences by acknowledging their emotions and expressing empathy. Show that you believe and support them, helping to validate their feelings and promote a sense of trust.
Encourage Professional Help: Suggest and encourage the person to seek professional help from a qualified therapist or counselor specializing in trauma and PTSD. Professional intervention can provide crucial guidance, therapy, and coping strategies tailored to their needs. Offer to help them find appropriate mental health resources and accompany them to appointments if they feel comfortable with your presence.
Be Mindful of Triggers: Learn about the person’s triggers, which can be certain sounds, smells, sights, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Avoid exposing them to known triggers when possible, and be understanding if unexpected triggers arise. Provide reassurance and help them navigate their emotions during these challenging moments.
Respect Boundaries and Personal Space: Respecting the person’s boundaries is essential. They may need space or time alone to process their thoughts and emotions. Avoid pressuring them into discussing traumatic events or engaging in activities they find uncomfortable. Let them know you support them whenever they can talk or seek assistance.
Create a Safe and Supportive Environment: Provide a safe space for the person to express their thoughts and emotions without judgment. Be patient and understanding, as individuals with PTSD may experience difficulties opening up or discussing their experiences. Encourage them to share their feelings at their own pace and ensure their emotions are valid and respected.
Foster Self-Care and Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Support the person in developing self-care practices, healthy coping mechanisms, and relaxing routines, such as exercise, mindfulness, or engaging in hobbies they enjoy.
Be Patient and Understanding: Recovery from PTSD is a gradual process that requires patience and understanding. Avoid imposing timelines or expectations on the person’s healing journey. Respect their pace and be there for them consistently, even if they experience setbacks or fluctuations in their symptoms.
Additionally, it would be best to keep in mind that PTSD can make someone hypersensitive to their surroundings. Remember to consider these preventions for someone with PTSD:
Don’t Minimize Their Experience: Avoid downplaying or dismissing their feelings or symptoms.
Don’t Pressure Them to Talk: Respect their boundaries regarding discussing their trauma, but let them know you can listen whenever they are ready.
Don’t Judge or Blame: Avoid judging or blaming someone for what they’re going through.
Don’t Force Exposure to Triggers: Avoid exposing them to triggers related to their trauma without their consent. Respect their need for a safe environment and allow them to dictate their boundaries.
Don’t Make Assumptions or Give Unsolicited Advice: Every person’s experience with PTSD is unique. Avoid making assumptions or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, ask them how you can best support them and follow their lead.
The Importance of PTSD Awareness
PTSD Awareness is crucial in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. By raising awareness and openly discussing PTSD, we challenge the harmful stereotypes and biases associated with mental illness. Breaking the silence encourages individuals to seek help without fear of judgment or shame. It fosters an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their experiences, leading to increased understanding and support for those living with PTSD.
Let us also emphasize that the timely recognition of PTSD symptoms can lead to prompt intervention, improving outcomes, and preventing further suffering. By raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of PTSD, we enable individuals, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals to identify and address the condition in its early stages. Early intervention, including therapy, counseling, and support, can significantly improve an individual’s chances of recovery and enhance their overall quality of life.
National PTSD Awareness Day provides a platform to educate the public about the complexities of PTSD, including its causes, symptoms, and impacts on individuals’ lives. However, raising awareness about PTSD is a continuous journey beyond a single day or month. It requires persistent efforts to encourage widespread support and understanding of this mental health condition. While it may take time, progress is achievable through our collective commitment. Each of us can contribute to this cause, fostering change by starting with ourselves. As we amplify our voices, our message will reach others, gradually creating a ripple effect of awareness and compassion. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the understanding and support surrounding PTSD.