Although there's increased talk around the diagnosis and treatment of common mood and mental disorders like anxiety and depression, there's still a lot of work to be done to raise awareness. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for instance, is typically associated with soldiers returning from active combat, despite the fact that it affects eight percent of Americans at any given time, according to PTSD United.
The US Department of Veteran Affairs claims nearly "six out of every 100 people'' will experience PTSD in their lifetime. While there are vets and non-vets alike living with PTSD, there appears to be little discussion online around the actual range of scenarios that can lead to PTSD.
Considering how common the disorder is, and to help you avoid a misdiagnosis, POPSUGAR chatted with consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, Dr. Rafael Euba to get all the details about the condition. Ahead, learn more about the direct and indirect causes, mental and physical symptoms, and four treatment methods for PTSD.
What Causes PTSD?
There are a number of instances that can cause PTSD, Dr. Euba tells POPSUGAR. Traumatic events such as sexual assault, violent personal attacks, or witnessing extreme violence can result in PTSD. "Life-threatening medical diagnoses, such as cancer and other diseases where life expectancy is reduced, and traumatic treatment" can also trigger the disorder, Dr. Euba says. PTSD can be caused by any event that brings about fear, such as "emotional experiences of loss, abuse, or bullying at home or in the workplace."
Much like depression and anxiety, symptoms of PTSD can be both physical and psychological, Dr. Euba says. The Mayo Clinic also lists a number of symptoms related to PTSD. Be mindful of these signs listed below:
- Racing heart
- Being on guard at all times
- Irritability or flashes of anger
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Being easily startled
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Displaying a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
Is PTSD Similar to Depression?
PTSD can be mistaken for depression, but the two are distinctly different, according to Dr. Euba. PTSD is caused by traumatic events and depression is set off by a variant of life events that aren't limited to traumatic ones. While the conditions are distinct, they can and do often occur together. Those who are diagnosed with PTSD are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop a depressive disorder, per the US Department of Veteran Affairs. If you think you could be experiencing either, reach out to your doctor to learn more.
How Is PTSD Treated?
Typically, the condition is treated through psychotherapy, but medications can be used as well. And at times, a professional might recommend both.
- Psychotherapy - There are three common PTSD-specific treatments: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Exposure Therapy.
- TF-CBT: This method of therapy "helps patients to identify and cope with thoughts, behaviors, and emotions," Dr. Euba says. The practice is centered around changing one's thinking patterns and behavioral habits, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). "CBT therapists emphasize what is going on in the person's current life, rather than what has led up to their difficulties," per the APA.
- Exposure therapy: This type of therapy is used to help someone "safely face both situations and memories that you find frightening so that you can learn to cope with them effectively," per a Mayo Clinic post. The clinic notes that this method is especially helpful in guiding people through traumatic experiences that have resulted in PTSD-related flashbacks and nightmares.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This kind of psychotherapy "helps to change the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain, making them easier to manage," Dr. Euba says. The US Department of Veteran Affairs explains that in an EMDR treatment "you will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while you call to mind the upsetting memory until shifts occur in the way that you experience that memory and more information from the past is processed."
- Medication - Unlike depression, PTSD isn't normally treated with antidepressant medication. But if your symptoms include depressive episodes, depending on their severity, you may be prescribed with an antidepressant treatment to address that first. The APA mentions that commonly prescribed antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — including FDA-approved medications, Zoloft and Paxil — can help control serotonin levels in patients with PTSD. Serotonin "has a well-recognized role in the experience of mood and anxiety disorders," the APA notes.
Ultimately, your medical provider will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan that best suits your experience. So don't hesitate to reach out if you're experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above.
- Additional reporting by Angelica Wilson