People who face the challenge of mental illness often find themselves struggling with other health concerns, like post-traumatic stress disorder. Like other issues, this kind of illness can mirror others, projecting symptoms that make it hard to diagnose and treat. The first step is identifying what an attack looks like.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric illness that happens in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a trauma like a natural disaster, serious accident, war, or combat.
PTSD has been known by other names, too, including “shell shock” during World War I or “combat fatigue” following World War II, but it doesn’t just happen to someone in the military. PTSD can happen to anyone of any ethnicity, nationality, culture, or age group.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 12 million adults have PTSD each year, with about 6% of all people having it at some point in their lives. Studies by the U.S. National Institutes of Health show that PTSD is more common in women (5.2%) than men (1.8%), and the age groups most affected are people 45 to 59 (5.3%), 18 to 29 (4%), 30 to 44 (3.5%), and people 60 or older (1%).
PTSD Risk Factors
Some factors that can boost the risk for PTSD include:
- Surviving a dangerous event or trauma
- Getting hurt
- Seeing someone else hurt
- Childhood trauma
- Feelings of horror, helplessness, or intense fear
- Lack of social support after the trauma
- Navigating extra stress after the trauma, such as losing a loved one, pain and injury, or losing your job or home
- You have a history of mental health conditions or substance abuse
What Causes PTSD?
Doctors don’t know why some people develop PTSD. Like other mental health ailments, PTSD is probably triggered by a complex mix of:
- Stressful instances, like the quantity and cruelty of trauma you’ve experienced in your life
- There are inherited mental health issues, like a family history of depression and anxiety
- Your inherited personality traits, known as your temperament
- PTSD can be caused by the way your brain controls the chemicals and hormones your body dispenses in response to stress
Post-traumatic stress disorder can interfere with your entire life ― employment, relationships, health, and enjoyment of daily activities. Like many other mental health issues, PTSD can act like a tidal wave – leaving chaos in its wake if the symptoms are ignored.
Having PTSD may also boost your risk of other mental health issues, such as:
- Depression and anxiety. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, half of the people with PTSD also experience depression.
- Problems with substance use
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal ideas and actions
Signs of a PTSD attack
A PTSD attack can be different for everyone based on the original event and what triggered the attack in the first place. For someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, a PTSD attack can be sudden, intense, and near debilitating. Knowing whether you’re having such an attack depends on recognizing the symptoms involved. PTSD and random attacks are divided into four categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in mood and thoughts, and changes in emotional and physical reactions.
- Intrusive thoughts like repeated, spontaneous memories; bad dreams; or flashbacks of what happened. The flashbacks may be so intense that you feel you’re reliving the trauma or viewing it before your eyes.
- Avoiding reminders of what happened – avoiding activities, people, places, objects, and situations that might trigger upsetting memories. You might try to avoid remembering or thoughts of what happened, and resist discussing it or your feelings.
- You can’t remember key aspects of what happened; experience bad thoughts and feelings resulting in ongoing and distorted beliefs about yourself or someone else; have twisted thoughts about the origin or significance of what happened resulting in wrongly blaming yourself or someone else; feel persistent anger, fear, guilt, horror, or shame; have less interest in something you enjoyed doing; experience detachment from others; or have difficulty expressing positive emotions.
- Alterations in arousal and reactivity. Symptoms can include being easily irritated and having angry outpourings; having reckless or increasingly self-destructive behavior; being overly watchful or suspicious of your surroundings; being easily startled; or having trouble concentrating or sleeping.
Once diagnosed, PTSD can often be treated with psychotherapy, self-help, certain medications, and even ketamine therapy.