K. Waheed of Virginia started having flashbacks when she was in her twenties. Her “persistent, terrifying” images and memories didn’t always make sense, but afraid that they would harm or even kill her, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. That’s where she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD. K’s diagnosis came years after a series of events scarred her childhood, including physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse and neglect that began when she was just 2 years old.
PTSD Affects Millions
Posttraumatic stress disorder has made recent news headlines as U.S. troops return from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of PTSD cases diagnosed in members of the military spiked 50 percent from 2006 to 2007. But PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or life-threatening event such as a serious accident, violent assault, child abuse, war, or natural disaster. It is an anxiety disorder that affects 7.7 million U.S. adults each year, more of whom are women.
About 50 to 60 percent of Americans will be exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Not all people who experience trauma develop PTSD, however. The disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:
· Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
· Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
· Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
Sometimes these symptoms don’t appear until several months or even years after the event, but when they do appear, people with PTSD may feel detached from others, emotionally numb, and have difficulty working, relaxing, or concentrating.
Treatment of PTSD commonly includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. One benefit of CBT is that it teaches recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime. According to the National Center for PTSD, CBT treatments for PTSD involve the following:
- Exposure therapy—Patients describe their traumatic experiences in detail, on a repetitive basis, to reduce the distress associated with their memories.
- Cognitive therapy—Patients identify their trauma-related negative beliefs and change them to reduce distress.
- Stress-inoculation training—Patients learn skills for managing and reducing anxiety, such as breathing, muscle relaxation, or self-talk.
Fortunately, K. received treatment for her symptoms, although her drinking impeded improvement at first. “I abused alcohol to escape reality,” she says. About 20 percent of people with an anxiety or mood disorder abuse alcohol or drugs. K joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober for many years.
To start recovery, contact a therapist in your community or learn how to help a spouse. There is no one right treatment to recover from PTSD. Anyone suffering with symptoms should talk to a doctor about the best options available; often a combination of treatments is recommended.
Read more about K’s recovery from PTSD, as well as another woman’s success story, on the ADAA website, where you will also find a list of PTSD resources.
PLEASE NOTE: The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) does not endorse or promote any specific medications or treatments.
Published On: July 22, 2008