Throughout the month of June, organizations and individuals aim to bring greater awareness to PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is more common than you may think – In the U.S., 7-8% of the population will have PTSD during their lifetime.
Experiencing trauma is common, and each time an individual undergoes a traumatic event, he or she has a chance to develop PTSD. In a previous blog, I explored four main things you should know about the condition – from common symptoms to diagnosis info, PTSD is a complicated illness.
One frequently asked question about PTSD is about what causes it – while two people may experience the same traumatic event, it is possible that just one of them will ever struggle with PTSD. There are a couple of factors that make it more or less likely that someone will experience PTSD.
One factor in whether or not someone will develop PTSD is his or her background and experience. People who have been exposed to combat, engaged in violent behavior against others, or have a history of family physical or substance abuse are predisposed to developing PTSD. One of the most significant factors in vulnerability to PTSD is child abuse – victims of child abuse can be much more likely to develop the condition. Additionally, PTSD actually affects women more than men – about 10% of women develop PTSD, compared to 4% of men. One group that is particularly vulnerable to PTSD is veterans – they are much more likely to develop the condition than the average person.
Resilience, defined as the ability to maintain a normal state despite difficult circumstances, is also a significant factor in whether someone does or does not develop PTSD. Many people are able to maintain this resilience when they experience traumatic events, and these individuals may be more independent, creative, or outgoing than their peers who are less resilient.
Six psychosocial factors associated with resilience to both PTSD and everyday stress are the following: active coping styles, regular physical exercise, a positive outlook, a moral compass, social support, and cognitive flexibility. Problem-solving and learning to handle emotions that accompany stress are examples of active coping mechanisms, while embracing humor is a way to maintain a positive outlook. These traits can have a significant effect on whether or not someone develops PTSD or experiences high levels of stress in general.
In addition to medication prescribed for PTSD, many people who struggle with the condition choose to pursue types of therapy to supplement their treatment. Veteran-focused organizations especially have been exploring new and unique ways to help individuals cope with PTSD.
Some veterans have found relief through fly fishing with Project Healing Waters, a program designed to help heal both visible and invisible war wounds. However, fishing isn’t the only therapeutic method people have tried – a group of veterans teamed up with Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach to plan an underwater adventure for those dealing with PTSD.
Art therapy is another impactful way to help individuals struggling with symptoms of PTSD. A 2016 study examined the impact of cognitive processing therapy in relation with art therapy on military personnel with PTSD.
Participants in the study spent eight sessions drawing trauma narratives, mask-making, mind mapping, and papermaking. They also reviewed their art throughout the sessions. While there is still much more research to be done on this topic, the study found that these activities positively impacted changes in the participants’ PTSD symptoms.
Many service members have felt the benefits of channeling traumatic memories into artistic expression, demonstrating the real-life implications of therapy like this. From drawing to performing to photography, having a creative outlet has helped many people lessen the symptoms of PTSD.
Always consult your doctor when considering treatment or before engaging in alternative forms of therapy. PTSD affects everyone differently, and when developing a treatment plan, it is important to take those differences into consideration.
Despite its prevalence, PTSD is still stigmatized today because many do not understand the disorder or consider it an injury. You can help educate others about PTSD through June and year-round to help fight the negative perception of the disorder by joining an organization and reaching out to loved ones battling PTSD. One of the most impactful ways to participate in PTSD Awareness Month is to spread the word about the condition, as many people do not understand it. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a comprehensive list of resources available to those who may be suffering from PTSD.
An author of over 425 articles and more than 1500 scientific presentations and abstracts, Dr. Stephen Stahl is an internationally recognized clinician, researcher and teacher in psychiatry with subspecialty expertise in psychopharmacology. Dr. Stahl has edited five books and written 25 more, including the best-selling textbook Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology, now in its third edition, and the best-selling clinical manual, Essential Psychopharmacology Prescriber’s Guide, also in its third edition. Learn More.