[May 8, 2020] In honor of Mental Health Month, please take a few minutes to learn about PTSD, a mental health condition that affects many survivors of violence, from a SOAR member:
“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.” - Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most common psychological disorder developed in survivors of domestic violence (DV). In fact, domestic violence may have an impact not only on the mental health of the survivor, but children who witness or experience violence as well. The purpose of this article is to introduce readers to PTSD and empower you with information to support continued research on this topic. Please talk to a health professional if you have concerns.
It is important to understand PTSD. Approximately 8 million adults have PTSD each year, and it is correlated with negative health outcomes such as autoimmune diseases, heart disease, depression, and suicide. Recognizing the signs of PTSD is the first step toward obtaining treatment to minimize the negative impacts of the disorder.
PTSD can cause an individual to have trouble trusting oneself and trusting others. It affects how an individual views oneself, how they view others, and how they view the world. Although every individual experiences PTSD uniquely, there are four categories of symptoms…
- Re-experiencing symptoms: Individuals with PTSD may re-experience the traumatic event through distressing memories, recurring nightmares, flashbacks (feeling as though the trauma is occurring in the present moment), intense physiological reactivity (survival response), or feeling triggered or upset when certain scents, sounds or places remind the person of the trauma.
- Avoidance symptoms: Individuals with PTSD may avoid reminders of the trauma and tend to experience emotional numbness. This includes avoiding memories, feelings, places, or people associated with the trauma, difficulty remembering important parts of the traumatic experience, loss of interest in one’s hobbies, feeling detached from others, a restricted range of emotions and a shortened sense of the future. Individuals with PTSD may develop maladaptive coping strategies such as binge eating or drug and alcohol use to numb the pain associated with the trauma. These maladaptive numbing strategies end up prolonging the psychological pain associated with PTSD and prevent recovery.
- Increased anxious arousal symptoms: Individuals with PTSD may experience hyperarousal which includes sleep problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating, increased physiological responses like increased heart rate and sweating, hypervigilance (feeling like you are always on guard and extra alert), being easily startled, angry outbursts, and aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behavior.
- Cognition and mood symptoms: People with PTSD may experience depression and feel hopeless, alone and isolated or like a burden to others, have difficulty concentrating or remembering, or feel mistrust, betrayal, guilt, shame, or self-blame.
If you think you have PTSD, remember that it is not your fault. PTSD is a result of trauma. When experiencing violence or a hostile environment, your body and mind functioned to protect you. If you are now out of the dangerous situation, your body and mind may still be stuck in that protective mode. It is not your fault and you deserve to get the help you need to feel safe and happy. To get support, you can book an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist that specializes in trauma. Here’s one way to find a therapist near you. You can also talk to your primary care physician about referrals. There are also intensive programs designed to help you, right here in Rhode Island. For instance, this Rhode Island Hospital Partial Program provides intensive daily support to individuals who have experienced trauma. In this program, individuals work one on one with a psychologist or psychiatrist and participate in group therapy sessions. Be sure to check in with other local agencies that offer free and/or low-cost supportive services for individuals who have experienced trauma, such as one of the RICADV member and affiliate agencies. You are not alone.
- Lindsay, SOAR Member
Click here to view previous posts from Breaking the Silence.