Trauma will impact all of us at one point or another. A death or loss of a loved one, exposure to violence, a global pandemic, and all types of abuse and neglect impact each of us differently. Additional traumatic events may include accidents, terrorism, illness, and natural disasters.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD occurs after a traumatic event and impacts a person's ability to function. It is important to note that not everyone who has experienced a traumatic event will develop PTSD. After a traumatic event, it is normal to experience intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, worry, fears, changes in mood, or avoidance. Nightmares, recurring memories about the event, trouble sleeping - these, too, may show up and are completely normal reactions. It is through these symptoms, our body is processing what we experienced (which we call the stress response) - and these symptoms do not always mean that you have PTSD.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD according to the DSM-5, you will need to meet particular criteria and have experienced symptoms for at least a month after the traumatic event. In addition, it is also recommended that a complete physical examination to be completed to check for medical problems that could be causing or contributing to symptoms you may be experiencing.
Understanding PTSD in Children, Teens & College Students
Children, teens and young adults can experience similar emotional challenges and behavioral symptoms in response to traumatic situations. While many children, teens and young adults may have experienced trauma at one point in their lives, about 16% will end up with a PTSD diagnosis. Traumatic events for this population may include abuse, school violence, natural disasters, military-family related stressors, sudden or violent loss of a loved one, abuse, neglect, serious accidents and life threatening illnesses. Symptoms for children, teens and young adults may look like:
Loss of appetite
Extraordinary fear of being separated from their parent/caregiver
Engage in risky sexual behavior
Impulsivity/dangerous decision making
Academic issues - skipping classes, poor grates
Withdraw from relationships
Avoiding things they used to enjoy
Hyperawareness of location/surroundings
When to seek counseling
PTSD symptoms can begin to impact various areas of life and make interactions at school, work, and in relationships very complicated and challenging. Many people managing PTSD often turn to unhealthy coping skills to escape or minimize their emotional challenges. This may look like substance abuse, self-harm, isolation, or disordered eating. Coping with nightmares, flashbacks, negative self-talk and negative outlook about yourself or others is extremely challenging, and often it may feel like things will never change for the better. It is recommended that if you are experiencing symptoms for longer than a month after a traumatic event, it may be helpful for you to talk with a professional.
Time Doesn't Always Help
Sometimes after a traumatic experience, people believe that their symptoms will eventually go away over time. While this can happen for some, other people can experience symptoms long after the even has taken place. This makes it particularly difficult to associate your symptoms with PTSD. Even if months or years have gone by, it can be helpful for you to consult with a therapist so that you can gain an understanding of what you are experiencing and find ways to enhance your life.
Trauma and PTSD Treatment
In using a combination of traditional talk therapy, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), meditation, mindfulness, and mind-body skills, Rachel helps clients access past trauma, acknowledge and honoring their experiences, and begin to re-integrate the sense of self. The goal is not forget the past, but to release the emotions, decrease negative behavioral symptoms, and gain wisdom.