“It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” – Sonawane Raj
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that frequently occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. These events may occur at a particular point in time or over a prolonged period in which personal threats, serious accidents, or injury contribute to an individual’s mental state.
The conversation around PTSD has changed over time mainly due to the public consensus that it is not only something that primarily affects military members. PTSD can occur in all people regardless of gender, ethnicity, or nationality at any age. However, studies have shown that communities of colour have been disproportionately affected by the disorder. PTSD is now so common amongst the general population that it has become easier to misidentify the symptoms.
Specific symptoms of PTSD can vary in severity. Examples include:
- Involuntary flashbacks and intrusive thoughts may be so vivid that a person can re-experience the trauma for the first time. These intrusions can also manifest as recurring nightmares where an individual relives the trauma against their will repeatedly.
- Avoiding reminders of places and people that may cause distressing thoughts or trigger traumatic memories. This avoidance frequently causes individuals to resist talking about what happened or how they feel.
- There are general changes in mood and the ability to remember important aspects of a traumatic event. These altered thoughts may distort beliefs in ourselves and others, causing feelings of guilt, fear, anger, shame, detachment from others, or inability to experience general satisfaction.
- Reactionary symptoms include being easily irritable; behaving recklessly; acting in a self-destructive way; being overtly watchful and suspicious of others; Having issues with sleep or concentration.
It was once the belief that PTSD only occurred with direct exposure to traumatic events. However, over the decades, neurologists have determined the considerable impact of passive exposure to trauma. Indirectly experiencing an unsettling traumatic event carries its own set of consequences for individuals and communities alike. Groups based on various distinctions (i.e., ethnicity, geography, faith) may experience collective trauma through a communal event. In the rare case, the global community may experience trauma collectively through an unprecedented catastrophic event.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global-scale crisis that has exacerbated every aspect of civil life. A recent study in China determined that nurses facing the pandemic were experiencing similar symptoms to patients with PTSD. This study also determined that nurses slept the least hours, with over 35% of respondents having increased anxiety levels and 20% experiencing depressive symptoms in their regular lives. The increased exposure to various stressors increases the likelihood of experiencing what the Psychiatric Times calls Post-Covid Stress Disorder (PCSD). The resemblance between PCSD and PTSD is uncanny.
Data collected by health agencies around the globe regarding the mental health outcomes of this pandemic have reinforced the same conclusion: isolation from friends and family over a prolonged period or engaging/witnessing violence all reside within the same psychological spectrum. Much like an act of war, the trauma inflicted over the pandemic isn’t something that passes like any other event. It can be challenging for patients with PTSD to share their burdens with others however, one form of treatment is psychotherapy. The benefits of psychotherapy also referred to as talk therapy, are innumerable. The main thing to know up front is that your burden is no longer just your own. Your psychotherapist will assist you with the mental tools to address your symptoms in real-time while also learning to cope should anything arise in the future.
Psychotherapy for PTSD often consists of techniques such as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy to name a few. The goal is to develop skills that help in coping with the stress produced from the traumatic event. Navigating PTSD and the associated symptoms can be daunting however assistance from a mental health professional is beneficial.
Blog written by Duarte Da Silva. Follow Duarte @duarticulate for his perspective on a variety of subjects. DM’s are open to the curious.