A man wakes up screaming and sweating in the middle of the night. He’s distraught that he keeps having nightmares about his wartime combat, but his wife reassures him that they’re just dreams and nothing can hurt him.
How many times have we seen that scenario in a movie or a television show? A lot, right? Although such occurrences are often used as a dramatic plot device, they’re very real occurrences for thousands of people.
That’s because the war-related nightmares in television shows and movies may be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Every year, June 27th commemorates PTSD awareness day. PTSD is a condition that may occur after people experience or witness traumatic events such as
- Acts of terrorism
- Physical attack or homicide
- Sexual assault
- Substance abuse
- Natural disasters
As the above list indicates, people experience PTSD because of many reasons. Witnessing natural disasters such as massive flooding and hurricanes may cause the condition.
Sexual assault may also produce the condition. Women who survive a sexual assault have a 50 percent likelihood of developing PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Comorbidity Survey. So, while we may think of PTSD in terms of male war veterans who are battling shell shock, it is not the full picture of people with the condition.
For people with untreated PTSD, the tragedies in their lives don’t end. Instead, PTSD forces them to relive traumatic incidents over and over again. They may have the nightmares mentioned above or they may have flashbacks.
Because these nightmares and flashbacks seem all too real, people with PTSD may always be on edge because they think their vigilance may prevent bad things from reoccurring. This state of hyperarousal may cause them to react and overreact to stimuli that remind them of the traumatic events.
They may be frightened of ordinary helicopters because they remind them of the enemy helicopters they encountered during their military service. Or, they may take great lengths to avoid things that remind them of their trauma.
Constantly living in an aroused state may produce anxiety and uncertainty. Avoiding other aspects of life may cause isolation and depression. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to try to quell this anxiety and depression and to end the PTSD flashbacks, but such substances may only make their mental and physical health worse.
Instead, educating people and commemorating PTSD awareness day are good ways to acknowledge the condition and help people find treatment. Options to treat the condition include:
Engaging in Therapy
Therapy may serve many purposes at once. It may teach people strategies for coping with the symptoms of PTSD. It may also help people explore and address the root causes of their trauma.
For example, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a therapeutic approach that encourages clients to discuss traumatic events and assign positive thoughts to these events while performing specific eye movements or other activities. Such activities may retrain thought processes and the way people react to different stimuli.
Revisiting the Trauma
Similar to EMDR therapy, other therapeutic approaches encourage people to revisit their trauma. As in EMDR therapy, people should seek the assistance of trained individuals so their trauma decreases, not increases.
With effective assistance, people may experience real benefits from physically visiting the site or sites where they developed trauma. It may help them create positive experiences to eliminate negative ones. It may help people fill gaps in their memories and help them gather information.
Other ways to gather information include using different resources. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established the National Center for PTSD to help people with PTSD and their families. In additional to information about the condition and treatments for it, the center’s website also includes search options to find assistance in a crisis, look for a therapist, and search for courses, apps, and videos that provide information, assistance, and hope.
Resources close to home may also help people find assistance. As with other mental health conditions, the assistance of others may help people with PTSD receive treatment and remind them that they’re not alone. They may help them replace negative memories with positive ones and treat PTSD for good.
Guest blogger: Nicole Allen is a freelance educator and writer based in Michigan and believes that her writing is an extension of her career as a tutor since they both encourage learning and discussing new things. When she isn’t writing, you’ll might find Nicole running, hiking, or swimming. She’s participated in several 10K races and hopes to compete in a marathon one day.