Every one of us experiences difficult, horrible, depressing, or challenging moments in life. Not all of us can say that these moments have caused actual trauma—but around 8 million people certainly can.
In fact, your chances of experiencing a traumatic event may be higher than you think. Recent estimates suggest that 1 in 8 women will experience trauma in their lives, along with 1 in 20 men. If the odds seem bleak, you’re not entirely off base. If you stop to think about it, the potential for trauma is everywhere.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder, occurring as a by-product of witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The most common causes of PTSD are a natural disaster, vehicular accidents, an act of terrorism, wartime combat, sexual assault, or any other violent act. This isn’t even close to a full list.
Though diagnoses of PTSD are becoming more common, those who suffer from PTSD often feel misunderstood. A simple understanding of the causes, treatments, and symptoms of PTSD can go a long way in making voices heard and eliminating negative stigmas.
With that said, here is a list of 25 things that people with PTSD want you to know:
PTSD is more common than you think
It may seem as though PTSD is an isolated disorder, but in truth, more people suffer from it than you may realize. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that at least 8 percent of people will experience some form of PTSD.
Given this, it might be worthwhile to take an extra second and add a little caution, sincerity, and compassion to the world.
PTSD does not accompany every single traumatic event
Understanding PTSD means acknowledging that the effects are very specific, as well as the origin. A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder means that an event has been so extraordinarily stressful that it has affected your emotional stability.
Not only are they specific, but by nature, they are often sensitive.
PTSD should not be used as a joke
It might be tempting to claim that you have PTSD from that one time you caught your parents getting a little too friendly over a bottle of wine last Christmas—but can you call it PTSD? Are you looking at severe, long-lasting emotional trauma? Is it truly challenging to function in everyday life?
Chances are that you’re (mostly) fine, and a little bit of avoidance and averted eyes can help you forget all about it. There’s a difference between dramatic and traumatic. Don’t let passing remarks and weird jokes devalue the true struggle of PTSD.
Difficulty sleeping is a core component of PTSD
It’s crucial to address sleeping issues when undergoing treatment, since difficulty sleeping often goes together with PTSD. Not only is simple relaxation hard to come by, but deep sleep rarely happens.
If a friend or loved one is suffering from PTSD, know that a good part of their exhaustion and stress is probably stemming from an acute lack of sleep.
PTSD does not make people violent
It might be a popular plot line for screenplays and stories to follow, but the trope of the unpredictable individual who resorts to quick bouts of violence spawned by PTSD isn’t exactly fair. While PTSD is associated with a higher risk of aggressive behavior, the majority of those who suffer from PTSD have never engaged in violent actions.
It might make for an engaging plot, but the reality of this disorder is that most people who suffer from PTSD lead normal, productive lives, and are probably much less violent than their peers.
Genetics may increase the likelihood of PTSD
While genetics certainly can’t determine what types of trauma you will encounter in your life, they might help determine your reaction. Recent studies have found genes that regulate fear reactions and memories generated by fear. Other studies have shown that heredity may account for as much as 30% of our response to trauma.
Addiction and dependency have also been linked to genetics, suggesting that the cards might truly be stacked against us from the start.
Anyone can develop PTSD—even if they aren’t in the military
It’s a common inclination to think that only veterans of war can have PTSD. In fact, during WWI and WWII, PTSD was called “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.” Men and women in uniform often experience unique types of trauma that civilians may never come close to understanding, so this connection makes sense.
It’s important not to forget that there are tons of different scenarios for a traumatic event. Life is crazy, multi-faceted, and often dangerous. Sometimes, so are our experiences.
Symptoms may not show up right away
There are two different types of PTSD: acute, or chronic. The first type of PTSD is short-term, where symptoms occur nearly immediately, and recovery takes a matter of months.
The second type of PTSD is long-term, and while symptoms may take months or even years to appear, recovery can often be even longer.
It may be difficult to recognize signs of PTSD
Regardless of the timing, symptoms are sometimes completely masked or unnoticed. For some, their emotional triggers and responses don’t seem at all connected to the traumatic event. After all, if you have recently been in a combat zone, it doesn’t make much sense to suffer panic attacks inside the frozen food aisle at the supermarket. Still, it certainly happens.
When it comes to PTSD, symptoms can be confusing and convoluted. This often means that those who suffer from PTSD go for many years without a diagnosis or proper treatment.
Negative stigmas still exist
Despite that fact that PTSD is fairly common, there is still a certain negative stigma or stereotype attached to the condition. Sadly, the same is true for most mental illnesses across the board.
Recent surveys have shown that a whopping 75 percent of people with mental illnesses feel as though they are misunderstood.
PTSD has severe emotional side-effects
As a psychiatric disorder resulting from an intense, traumatic event, there are a whole host of emotional side-effects that come along with it. While no experience is the same, the most common side-effects include anxiety, depression, intense mood swings, nightmares, prevailing sensations of fear or anger, avoidance, extreme guilt, worry, or decrease in motivation.
It’s no secret that PTSD is certainly no walk in the park. These emotional side-effects are not only disruptive and destructive, but they can often be debilitating, preventing those who suffer from PTSD to participate in their normal routines.
…but they can be physical, too
Our bodies are strongly linked to our emotions. Physical health is often determined by mental health, due to release and absorption of chemicals and hormones.
Because of high stress and anxiety, many people who suffer from PTSD also have cardiovascular or gastrointestinal diseases as well.
Taking time to relax, calm nerves, and soothe worries is important for everyone—but chances are that someone with PTSD is much more in need of a quiet room and a little relaxation.
There are multiple ways for symptoms to appear
Doctors have recognized four separate ways for PTSD symptoms to manifest: reliving the event, avoiding experiences reminiscent of the event, experiencing negative beliefs or feelings, and hyperarousal.
While the last one might sound fun, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and explain that this means intense sensations of fear, paranoia, and even reckless behavior. Hyperarousal is decidedly not fun.
Symptoms aren’t imaginary
Let’s face it, the brain is a phenomenal piece of equipment. While some of us may forget to use it sometimes, the human brain is the most complex and diverse organ inside the body.
Illnesses and health conditions that originate from the mind are equally as complex and diverse. Research has proven that traumatic stress causes long-lasting changes inside the brain, affecting hormonal and chemical responses.
While symptoms might originate from the head, this certainly doesn’t mean that they are “all in the head.”
Every trigger is different
No traumatic experience is the same, and neither are triggers. Something as unobtrusive as a certain smell, song, sound from the street, or a passing comment could easily send someone suffering from PTSD right back into their trauma.
The prospect of dealing with flashbacks at any given moment creates a ton of stress, which makes many PTSD symptoms even worse.
Some days are better than others
Just like any other person, those who have been diagnosed with PTSD suffer through bad days and rejoice in good days. Better days don’t necessarily mean that they are magically “over it,” and worse days don’t mean that they will never get through it. It’s a process, and it’s one that requires time, effort, patience, and support.
We’re all human beings, with days that are full of struggle and days that are full of joy. Just because you had a bad day and broke down for a moment—thanks a lot, PMS—that certainly doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of bad days.
Support and understanding are crucial
If someone you know and love suffers from PTSD, know that your support can work wonders in their treatment and progression. The greatest fear for many is that their family members, friends, and loved ones will not understand them, or that they will look at them differently after experiencing trauma.
The age-old struggle for understanding and support: it’s much less of a symptom of angst-ridden, hair-flipping teenagers, and much more so a basic element of human interaction.
Knowledge is power
For people suffering from PTSD—and those surrounding them—knowledge is fundamental. Understanding triggers, psychic reactions to trauma, warning signs and symptoms of PTSD, and treatment options are all key components to managing and treating PTSD.
Diving into each of these components can enable recognition, support, and guidance towards healing and recovery.
Ultimately, trauma changes you
No matter who you are, how you were raised, or how prepared you may be, the fact is that trauma changes you. And why on earth should it not? An earth-shattering, life-changing event is the very basis for evolution and alteration.
As a result, people with PTSD often struggle with the reality that life can never be the same, because they will never be the same. With treatment and support, this change can become something beautiful and resilient.
Many suffer in silence
This perhaps goes along with a negative social perception of PTSD, or perhaps speaks to the inherent resiliency of the human spirit. We all want to be portrayed as strong, capable, and independent individuals. Once that portrayal is interfered with, it can be difficult to reconcile perception and reality.
We all want to be strong, but there are moments in life where all of us will need to ask for help.
PTSD is not always rational
The perspective of someone who has PTSD might not always be rational or logical. After all, actions and viewpoints driven by emotion rarely are.
They might not process events or fears in a logical fashion, and that’s okay. They might not take advice either, and that’s also okay. Learning to manage and work through emotional trauma takes a lot of time and effort.
Social interaction is a great help
This is a difficult one for many to process, since a tendency towards isolation and avoidance are two common characteristics of those suffering from PTSD. Still, knowing that they are not alone, and that they are supported and loved is crucial for anyone suffering from PTSD.
Medications for post-traumatic stress mimic those for depression
Of course, this is not to say that PTSD and depression are one and the same. While they share some commonalities, these two disorders are very different, and often very complex. They do, however, use similar medications to stimulate hormonal and chemical reactions.
Both use pharmaceuticals called SSRIs. These medications target serotonin levels in the brain, working to regulate moods and increase “happy” hormones.
People with PTSD are fully capable of leading productive, healthy lives
While symptoms can certainly be debilitating at times, the good news is that with a healthy routine of treatment, therapy, and support from loved ones, people diagnosed with PTSD have just as much of a shot at a productive life than anyone else.
The key, of course, is to have the strength and courage to seek out the necessary resources. Left untreated, PTSD symptoms can worsen. While life may never feel “normal” again, those diagnosed with PTSD are certainly capable of shaping a new sense of normality and peace within their lives.
Post-traumatic stress does not define a person
No one is defined by a specific trauma—or by their reaction. The sum of a person’s character comes from an array of different character traits, emotions, actions, and relationships. We are each so wonderfully unique and multifaceted, and PTSD is only one small part of a whole.
As Maya Angelou once said, “You cannot control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” Or, alternatively, defined by them.