Military members are not the only people to experience trauma that can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guard men and women are often at a higher risk due to the nature of military service.
People don’t “just know” they are suffering from PTSD. The symptoms are not unique to the condition and misdiagnosis is more common than you might think. People can suffer from PTSD, but be diagnosed as having personality disorders unrelated to PTSD. They can be simply mischaracterized as “depressed” or “weak”, etc.
It may take a trained professional experienced with trauma and diagnosing PTSD to recommend a helpful course of treatment. Treating the symptoms of PTSD requires individualized care. Every person’s circumstances are unique and no two cases are exactly alike. That is true of both symptoms and treatment.
Who Suffers from PTSD? More People Than You Might Think
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects approximately eight percent of the population. According to some statistics, about 70% of all adult Americans have experienced some form of trauma and about 20% of that percentage will develop symptoms associated with PTSD. Some 44,000,000 people must cope with post-traumatic stress disorder in some form.
Causes of PTSD vary. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event is described as the source of PTSD symptoms. PTSD may be caused by combat, abuse, emotional loss, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, serious accidents, assault, and many other situations.
PTSD was recognized as a mental health issue in 1980 and is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
What You Should Know About the Symptoms of PTSD
Like many mental health issues, there is no single tell-tale sign of PTSD. There are a variety of symptoms that can be associated with the condition. Many of those may seem relatively harmless on their own such as bad dreams, sleeplessness, irritability, etc.
But in conjunction with other symptoms, may lead a health professional to conclude that further exploration is necessary to rule out or confirm PTSD as a possible cause.
Those who suffer from PTSD may find their symptoms fall within a certain range of experiences rather than a specific part of life. “I get irrationally angry when red cars drive past me on the freeway” is a legitimate sign of possible PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. It may be less specific and easily defined as, “I get irrationally angry when I hear sounds of cars driving past me.”
Some Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Symptoms of PTSD include repeated, unwanted, and often intrusive memories of a traumatic event, bad dreams, feeling emotionally detached, intense guilt, worry, angry outbursts, and trying to avoid situations that are reminders of the trauma.
You may be suffering from PTSD if you experience one or more of the following for a prolonged amount of time after a traumatic event:
- Recurring, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events. Some people may be drawn to or be repelled by certain activities that remind them of the event(s). Children may express this through play or creativity that incorporates aspects of the trauma.
- Repeated dreams that feels somehow related (or directly related) to the trauma.
- Any dissociative reaction that makes the sufferer feel that the trauma or aspects of it are happening again.
- Intense distress to exposure to things that are reminders of the trauma.
- Prolonged psychological distress at exposure to reminders of the trauma.
- Physiological (bodily) reactions to reminders of the event(s).
You may be suffering from PTSD if you experience two or more of the following:
- You cannot remember an important part of the trauma in ways that are unrelated to head injury, alcohol or drug use.
- Exaggerated, negative, and persistent ideas or expectations about oneself, others, or the world.
- A distorted sense of blame related to the cause or consequences of the traumatic events. The blame may be self-directed or outwardly directed.
- Persistent fear, anger, guilt, or other strong negative emotions.
- Reduced or lack of interest in activities or events you would otherwise take part in.
- Feeling detached from other people or situations.
- An inability to feel positive.
What You Should Know About Experiencing PTSD Symptoms
- Reminders of the traumatic event are not limited to external places or events that trigger unwanted thoughts. Nightmares, moments where it feels the traumatic event is happening all over again, even “accidental” thoughts of the trauma all affect the PTSD sufferer.
- PTSD can cause physical reactions such as racing heartbeat, panic attacks, shaking, and physical discomfort.
- PTSD may cause the sufferer to avoid places, people, and activities that stir up bad feelings or memories. A common symptom of PTSD is the loss of interest in things that formerly made the sufferer happy, including socializing with friends and family.
- PTSD symptoms include negative feelings that did not exist before, or exaggerated negativity, shame, fear, etc.
- Survivor’s guilt can be a symptom of PTSD and should be treated immediately once identified as this is a common cause of suicidal feelings among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even if the guilt does not lead to further PTSD symptoms, it is very important to discuss such feelings with someone you trust and/or a mental health professional.
- PTSD symptoms can be vague and non-specific. In the same way that people don’t experience just one trauma though the course of life, PTSD can be complicated or aggravated by additional experiences depending on the person. There is no single “smoking gun” symptom of PTSD, but rather a group of experiences, behaviors, and symptoms that may add up to a PTSD diagnosis.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Are Commonly Misinterpreted As Something Else
Everyone gets angry at times. But those who experience PTSD will find that the anger associated with this condition is, similar to memories of the traumatic event itself, intrusive and can interfere with ordinary activities.
People who find themselves getting irrationally angry for reasons they can’t identify may suffer personal setbacks due to these anger issues. Post-traumatic stress disorder may be to blame when anger is difficult to control and for no good reason.
But such symptoms are often confused with “being a jerk” or with anger caused by recent, non-traumatic events being the result of a lack of sensitivity or other non-PTSD cause. Irrational, or even uncontrollable anger is a symptom of a larger problem; what seems to “cause” the anger in the moment is likely not directly associated with the actual root cause of the behavior. Trauma-related anger can be confused with being merely too impatient or not understanding enough.
If You Even Suspect You May Be Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Seek Help Immediately
There are many resources for veterans, currently serving military members, dependents and spouses. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site has a large amount of information and advice.
You can get help right away by calling the National Center for PTSD at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online with a Veterans Crisis Line counselor.
Call 911 if you have feelings of self-harm or an inability to cope with your symptoms. Family members who wish to seek help outside the military system or Department of Veterans Affairs should consult a therapist, counselor, or psychologist in their healthcare network.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News