According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, “develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm.
The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”
These ordeals can include such terrifying incidents as a plane crash, car crash, rape, abuse and natural disasters. But the most publicized cause of the condition is war.
Too often our soldiers come back home after seeing devastating and unspeakable things and are unable to live a normal life thereafter. What is PTSD, how can you cope with it and how can we help others to cope with it?
In the Bible, Jesus encourages the sick to come to him:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. —Matthew 11:28-30
This verse is often quoted, but it is so relevant for those struggling with any disease, and especially PTSD.
Dr. Patricia Hunter, a psychologist in New York City who has experience treating PTSD, notes that the condition “happens when somebody feels haunted by experiences from the past that have never been processed, and remain frozen in time.”
Often, she says, sufferers of the disease can experience nightmares and intense emotions. Other reactions include experiencing flashbacks, feeling numb or hyper-aware or bedwetting in children.
Sometimes these reactions are so debilitating that the person is unable to carry on a regular life, impacting both career and family life. Effects of PTSD differ from one person to another, just as one person’s trauma differs from another’s. Some people are affected more strongly than others—the difference between “big T” and “small t” traumas.
PTSD, writes, Dr. Hunter, is “caused by external stress that has not had a chance to be understood, either within the person themselves, or through sharing with another person. The person with PTSD lacks perspective and has difficulty being in the present moment.” The best treatments for this condition are either psychotherapy or medication.
“Medication can help lessen the intensity of the feelings initially,” according to Dr. Hunter, “and then psychotherapy where somebody can learn to trust another person (the therapist, which will take time) is another avenue.”
The FDA has approved only two medications to treat PTSD: Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine). Both of these medications are anti-depressants.
Dr. Hunter also employs EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing] as “a technique that can be used along with psychotherapy after a safe relationship has been established.” EMDR involves the client focusing on the specific trauma he endured, and then learning coping mechanisms to help lessen the effects of that trauma.
The NIMH recognizes over 7.7 million Americans struggling with this condition, and individuals of any age can suffer from it.
For those struggling with past experiences of their own, the US Department of Veterans Affairs runs the National Center for PTSD, a center that helps not only veterans of war, but also victims of different kinds of trauma. Here, soldiers can learn from other veterans how they have coped with the condition, discover what to expect after you return home and find out what treatments are right for you.
Family members of those suffering with PTSD can also use the site to learn how to help and support your loved one during this difficult time in your lives. (Encouraging close contact with family and friends and offering to listen to any worries he has while understanding the need for quiet as well are all points a family member should make.)
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, encourage them to see a doctor and know that there is always someone you can talk to.