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The fourth of July is a big celebration for many people in America each year. There is great food, people spend time with family and friends and there is even a feeling of camaraderie. There is also amazing fireworks that everyone looks forward to. It’s is a holiday that brings with it the feeling of nostalgia from years before and feelings of excitement for what may come in the future.
However, some might not think so fondly of this day. Coming home from war changes things, and sometimes the tolerance of loud noises (such as fireworks) can set off self-preservation tactics that are straight from the battlefront. Tragic situations can turn the most wonderful situation into one of terror, and war veterans aren’t the only ones who experience this change. Nurses and doctors, NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) moms and rape victims can have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as can anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience in their life.
Oftentimes this disorder stems from seeing the suffering of someone else and not being able to help or having your life in danger. It isn’t a mental illness that discriminates, and it certainly is not something of which to be ashamed. It’s a sign that you may have been through hell and back, and surviving can be the hardest part.
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a mental disorder that can occur after someone has witnessed a traumatic event such as war, natural disasters, rape, death, civil conflict and even divorce. Everyone who experiences situations like this will be under a certain amount of stress, but not all will develop PTSD. Most types of stress just take a little while to get over, and normalcy will return after a relatively short period of time.
However, when someone suffers from PTSD, that stress is more prolonged. Certain situations can trigger them to relive the traumatic situation. This can lead to things like emotional numbing, avoidance, and hyperarousal in the individual. These symptoms can take a serious toll on a person’s day to day life, and last a long time.
According to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by The Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are three different kinds of symptoms that people with PTSD will experience:
Reliving The Trauma: This involves those with PTSD becoming upset when they experience something that reminds them of their previous trauma. This upset can even be triggered by simply thinking about the event. This can sometimes happen when the person is doing something unrelated to the trauma, but a memory comes to mind. Other times situations can remind them of the event, and they will have “flashbacks.” This could happen when a combat veteran hears fireworks, when a doctor reads a story about the death of a patient or when a police officer hears a car backfire.
Avoidance: The symptoms of PTSD are not pleasant, and no one wants to experience them. Avoiding people, places, and things that remind PTSD sufferers of their trauma is a common occurrence. Some people will go so far as to avoid certain smells and sounds. This can include isolation from other people and a feeling of numbness. This feeling of numbness is a coping mechanism that prevents the person from really getting in touch with what they’re feeling. This can even make it difficult to show certain emotions towards others. Ignoring the problem to the point of numbness can even make the person forget certain aspects of the event, which makes coping with their deep down feelings much harder.
Increased Emotional Arousal: Feeling “on guard” is a common side effect of PTSD. Being startled easily and a feeling of being unsettled are often experienced. Those with PTSD may feel like they have to always be ready for danger. This can cause sleeping problems, angry outbursts and trouble concentrating. Physical symptoms may also occur including rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, diarrhea, increased blood pressure and heart rate.
Oftentimes PTSD is accompanied by other disorders such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety and conduct disorder. This disorder can develop at any age, and children can often become victims of PTSD. When children are experiencing PTSD, their symptoms may include delayed development in skills such as speech, potty training and motor skills.
Everyone has a different threshold for dealing with stress and anxiety. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will suffer from PTSD. Personal ability and support from loved ones all play a factor in how someone will deal with their trauma.
The term PTSD becoming increasingly popular as returning soldiers from the war in Iraq began experiencing the symptoms. Though the term is relatively new, the disorder is not. War is one of the most common launching pads for PTSD, and has been for some time now. Though PTSD is common in battle, it isn’t specific to the war zone. People such as medical personnel and mothers can all become victims of PTSD.
The reasons for developing PTSD are different for every situation, but whatever the reason, it is one of traumatic proportions. Some people who commonly suffer from PTSD include:
In World War One, psychological issues due to war really started coming out of the woodwork. The term “shell shock” was first used in the British medical journal, The Lancet, in 1915, only six months after WWI began. It was believed that the disorder was caused by a shaken brain and was, therefore, a physical injury. This is because the earlier reported cases had all been in close proximity to exploding shells before exhibiting any symptoms. However, as the war went on it became apparent that not all who were experiencing symptoms—trembling, dizziness, loss of memory and confusion— had been around any exploding shells.
It was later realized that what was thought to be a physical injury was actually more of a nervous breakdown due to the awful traumas of war. Soldiers continue to face this challenge when they step onto the battlefield. Certain factors can increase the risk of soldiers returning home with PTSD. Longer deployment times, seeing others wounded or killed, prior exposure to trauma and some reports suggest that female soldiers are more at risk of getting PTSD their male counterparts.
Sexual Assault Victims
Post-traumatic stress disorder is incredibly common in rape victims. As someone coming home from war may have anxiety and feel irritable due to trauma, rape victims can feel the same way. It has been found that almost all women who were raped (94 out of 100 in this study), experienced these symptoms in the two weeks after they were raped.
After nine months, 30 out of 100 of these women continued to experience symptoms. The National Women’s Study also reported that almost one-third of all rape victims develop PTSD during their lifetime.
Doctors and Nurses
To say that doctors and nurses have a challenging job would be an understatement. They can deal with life and death situations on a daily basis, and nothing is screened for graphic content. They’ve seen dismemberment, gunshot wounds, disease and the death of children. During all of these situations, they have to remain calm and collected, often running on nothing but caffeine and adrenaline after a 72-hour shift. It’s just another day at work for these people. Although just because it is normal to face these challenges for medical personnel doesn’t mean it isn’t traumatic. They are still unavoidably human, and the loss of a patient can affect them deeply.
Mothers who have had babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are at an increased risk of developing PTSD. There is no doubt that having a baby in the NICU can be an extremely stressful situation for a mother to have her baby, and this stress can also cause postpartum depression. However, mothers who experienced stress and anxiety while pregnant were more likely to develop PTSD. This condition can even continue well after the baby has been released from the NICU.
PTSD is not diagnosed until at least one month has passed after a traumatic event. Once this has passed, a doctor will typically run tests to rule out any physical illnesses and assess the situation from there. After this diagnosis, various treatments could be an option.
There are several different types of treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the most common treatments are:
Medication: The goal of treatment is to help the person function better in their everyday lives. Antidepressants and certain blood pressure medication are often prescribed to help treat the symptoms of PTSD.
Psychotherapy: Therapy can help the person deal with the effects of his or her PTSD. This can help the person suffering come to terms with the traumatic event they have experienced so that they can better deal with their emotions.
Another up and coming treatment is cannabis use. Studies have shown that cannabis could help treat PTSD by reducing stress. Cannabidiol or CBD, the non-psychotropic cannabinoid in the cannabis plant has also been shown to help with anxiety and sleep disorders which could aid in treating PTSD symptoms.
Watching a loved one struggle with PTSD isn’t easy, and sometimes it’s unclear what we should do to help. Here are a few ways that you can help someone who is suffering from PTSD:
It can be challenging knowing what you should or shouldn’t do for someone with PTSD. Being available to talk (or not talk), and making them feel comfortable and excepted is always key. However, make sure you set boundaries for yourself. You may need to ask for help from other friends and family in sharing the responsibility. Setting clear limits to what you can really do can help you be a better support for your loved one’s recovery.
If you suspect that you have PTSD please educate yourself on the symptoms and consult your physician for medical assistance.