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About 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their lives, which is more prevalent than other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety (more info on that here and here). PTSD is often very distressing, but not many people know the basics. I decided to write this blog post to give a general outline of PTSD in hopes this will help others understand and become aware of how difficult PTSD can be. I've had my own personal history with PTSD, and now feel extremely grateful that I get to help people heal from their own trauma symptoms. So, here's a little* more info to understand PTSD... (*Ok it's more than a little. You may need to settle in for this post...)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition classified under "Trauma and Stress Related Disorders" in the DSM (i.e.- "big book of diagnoses"). It used to be classified as an anxiety disorder, but this has changed since the new DSM-V came out (more on that here). People may get PTSD after they:

  • Directly experience a traumatic event.
    • What constitutes a traumatic event? Generally things:
      • Outside our control
      • We weren't prepared for
      • Threatening to our physical or emotional health
    • Most common events that cause PTSD: Unexpected death of a loved one, sexual assault, and seeing someone badly injured or killed.
  • Witnesses the traumatic event in person
  • Learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close friend or family member
  • Experiences first-hand repeated/extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event

In order for a PTSD diagnosis, the response must cause significant impairment in the person's life (e.g.- missing work due to symptoms, relationship problems, or substance abuse/self harm). 

There are 4 categories of symptoms:

  1. "Re-experiencing" Symptoms- spontaneous memories of the event, recurrent dreams about event, or other prolonged psychological distress.
  2. "Avoidance" Symptoms- If you're constantly re-experiencing something traumatic, it would make sense that you'll consciously or unconsciously try to avoid this! Avoidance symptoms are just that: avoiding the things that trigger distress. Avoidance can mean going way out of your way to avoid the place where it happened, or feeling numb/detached (our brains automatically avoiding intense emotions for us).
  3. "Negative Thinking and Mood"- Symptoms in this category can include self-blame/shame, lack of trust for self or others, lack of interest in activities, extreme sadness or low mood, or even inability to remember key aspects of the traumatic event.
  4. "Arousal"- Not the good kind of arousal. This category basically means that your survival instinct ("fight or flight") hasn't shut off. Examples of arousal symptoms include sleep problems, being really on edge ("hyper-vigilant"), self-destructive behaviour or aggression/recklessness.

If the traumatic situation was over a month ago and you have symptoms in these four categories for over a month, that may qualify as PTSD (but always check with a health care professional to confirm this... Diagnosing yourself without the support of a mental health professional might be more harmful than helpful). The information here was adapted from the really helpful PDF from the American Psychiatric Association. 

Wondering if you have PTSD or suspect someone you love might have it? Feel free to email me or your nearest mental health professional (if you're outside BC, Canada) to get help. Although it can be really scary to be diagnosed with PTSD, understanding what's wrong is the first step to getting better.

See my post on how EMDR therapy can help with the healing process here. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for future posts on how to heal from PTSD.

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez)