Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Treatment
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Around 5 out of every 100 American adults have PTSD during any given year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.6 percent of adults in the US suffered from PTSD in the last year. Moreover, the condition has a lifetime prevalence of about 6.8 percent. The condition can develop as a result of exposure to traumatic events such as active combat, natural disasters, childhood abuse, assault, and sexual violence, leaving a lasting impact on our lives. Let’s have a look at what post-traumatic stress disorder entails, its signs and symptoms, and available treatment options.
PTSD is a trauma and stress-related disorder that occurs as a result of exposure to one or a series of traumatic events. It’s characterized by intrusive thoughts regarding the experience, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, negative change in your mood, and alterations in behavior. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 13 million Americans struggled with the disorder in 2020.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD occurs as a result of exposure to a highly stressful situation. There are no specific criteria as to what constitutes a highly traumatic experience. However, there are different types of dangerous or harmful events that can cause you to develop PTSD.
These can include:
- Automobile accidents
- Sexual assault
- Discrimination in the form of sexism, racism, or homophobia
- Exposure to violence
- Living through natural disasters like earthquakes and floods
- Witnessing or experiencing traumatic childbirth
- Suddenly losing a loved one
- Military invasion, active combat, or a terrorist attack
Who Gets PTSD?
Based on the National Institutes of Health, anyone can develop the condition. It usually includes people who have faced life-threatening events like a disaster, assault, or abuse. Common examples of people who fall into these categories are war veterans, refugees, and victims of sex trafficking.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, almost six out of hundred people will develop the condition during their lives. Lifetime prevalence rates show that women have a higher likelihood of getting PTSD than men. Specifically, women have a 10 to 12 percent prevalence rate, while men have a 5 to 6 percent rate.
Signs and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
The signs and symptoms of PTSD are grouped into four main categories as follows:
- intrusive memories of the traumatic event
- distressing dreams
- flashbacks of the event
- psychological distress when you face internal or external cues associated with the event
- physiological reactions to internal or external cues symbolizing the event
Avoidance of Associated Stimuli
- making an effort to avoid distressing memories
- avoiding reminders that may lead to stressful memories
Negative Alterations in Mood
- failing to remember aspects of the event due to dissociation
- negative beliefs about yourself, the world, or others
- inability to feel positive emotions
- distorted beliefs about the cause of the event
- low participation or interest in important activities
- persistent negative emotions
- feeling detached from people
Changes in Reactivity
- increased irritability and intense outbursts
- reckless behavior
- easily startled
- excessively alert
- sleep problems
- poor concentration
In addition to these symptoms, there are certain criteria that you need to meet for a diagnosis of PTSD.
How is PTSD Diagnosed?
For a diagnosis, you need to meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
- You should have faced direct or indirect exposure to a life-threatening or dangerous situation. This can also include witnessing the event as it occurred to others or experiencing repeated occurrences of the event.
- Showing one or more intrusion symptoms
- Showing one or both avoidance symptoms
- Showing two or more signs indicating a negative change in mood
- Showing two or more signs indicating marked changes in physical and emotional reactivity
- You should experience the symptoms for a period of more than one month
- The symptoms should lead to functional impairment and significant stress
- The symptoms shouldn’t be the result of another medical condition or substance use
Additionally, your therapist may evaluate your condition to see if you have any dissociative symptoms like depersonalization or derealization.
Inpatient Rehabilitation for PTSD
When you develop PTSD, you experience symptoms that can make it difficult to carry out certain functions. For instance, being hypervigilant can prevent you from going outside and buying groceries. Similarly, if you’re easily startled, you may have a hard time meeting with other people or answering the door for deliverymen. In such situations, mental health experts recommend an inpatient treatment plan to improve your quality of life.
During a residential program, you’ll be under supervision, attend regular therapy sessions, and build the skills you need to live an independent life. At an inpatient treatment facility like URP Behavioral Health, you can expect an individualized treatment plan designed by skilled physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and registered nurses.
Pre-Treatment Evaluation by a Mental Health Professional
To prepare this plan, you’ll need to complete a series of assessments and tests as part of an evaluation. This helps the center determine your course of treatment before enrolling you in a residential program.
The evaluation includes three main components, a medical evaluation, a psychiatric assessment, and a diagnosis, according to the DSM.
- A certified physician assigned to your case will conduct an evaluation by looking at your medical history. This means asking whether you take any medication, have undergone treatment for a preexisting condition, or if a certain condition runs in the family. This is important to determine that your symptoms aren’t the result of some other condition or medication.
- Your psychiatrist will perform a few assessments to evaluate your mental health. They’ll also ask about your symptoms, how you feel, and basic questions about your life. This helps them determine whether you’re struggling with symptoms of other conditions as well. For instance, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. In these situations, you’ll need to undergo simultaneous treatment to address both types of symptoms and improve well-being.
- Then, your psychiatrist will compare your symptoms with those specified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s published by the APA and helps mental health professionals make informed decisions regarding diagnoses. It details how long you should have experienced symptoms and the degree of severity to get a diagnosis.
The treatment plan will lay out whether you will require medication to manage symptoms, the type of therapies you’ll take, and which alternative treatments will be suitable for you.
What To Expect During Inpatient Treatment for PTSD
Although the specifics of your treatment plan can vary, it will include some basics, such as:
- Individual and group sessions of evidence-based therapies
- Family therapy sessions to spread awareness and psychoeducate close friends and family
- Complementary treatments like meditation and therapeutic massage are designed to improve your wellbeing
- Nutritional counseling and medication management
- Daily exercise in the gym area and recreational activities
- Training sessions for life skills like anger management and better communication
- Educational support for increased employability after treatment
Innovative PTSD Treatments
In one study, researchers saw that psilocybin stimulated the repair and growth of neurons in the hippocampus – the brain’s center of learning and memory. The results showed that psilocybin performed better at reducing fear conditioning than a placebo, proving its viability as a potential treatment for PTSD.
Another study shows that people with chronic illnesses who took psilocybin experienced lower distress levels. Participants reported that their quality of life improved after the treatment. They were able to perform better at work, had better relationships, and were motivated to engage in activities.
Ketamine treatment for PTSD
Researchers have tested the viability of ketamine infusion for treating PTSD symptoms and seen impressive results. It works by blocking the NMDA receptors in the brain, which is similar to some antidepressants. Studies indicate that doing so can reduce fear conditioning in the part of the brain associated with memory and learning, the hippocampus. As a result, it’s able to curb PTSD symptoms like avoidance, isolation, and intrusive thoughts.
MDMA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
According to some studies, MDMA can allow you to access repressed traumatic memories and process them without feeling anxious or overwhelmed. When you take MDMA, it increases oxytocin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels.
FAQs for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children and adolescents who experience traumatic events can develop behavioral issues that can impair function. In this case, using trauma-focused therapy, such as CBT, can address a variety of emotional and behavioral issues that arise due to trauma. A trauma-informed approach involves the following:
- psychoeducation to inform them about trauma symptoms.
- teaching them relaxation skills to alleviate stress
- learning about feelings for better emotional regulation
- helping them understand the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
- forming a trauma narrative
- processing the experience through exposure to triggers
Additionally, the therapist shares the trauma narrative with the parent so they can play a role in their child’s treatment.
Currently, there’s strong evidence that certain antidepressant medications are effective in alleviating symptoms. Specifically, they include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SSRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps with the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood. An increase in serotonin leads to greater communication between nerve cells, which helps reduce anxiety and stabilizes your mood.
People with PTSD can also develop other disorders, such as substance use disorder. In this case, you’ll need dual diagnosis treatment that involves incorporating therapies for PTSD and the other mental illness you’re struggling with. For instance, if you have a substance disorder as well, you’ll need to undergo detox and rehabilitative treatment to alleviate symptoms of addiction. At the same time, you’ll attend therapy sessions to address symptoms of PTSD and restore your ability to lead an independent and fulfilled life.
Yes, meditation is an effective way for veterans with PTSD to alleviate their symptoms. Research indicates that veterans who engaged in meditation experienced a greater reduction in symptoms than when they completed a program on relaxation training and psychoeducation. Similarly, one study shows that veterans who started a meditation program reported a higher level of satisfaction and experienced fewer symptoms.
Here are a few common myths you may hear about PTSD:
- “It only happens to army veterans.” This is false because anyone who witnesses or is exposed to a traumatic event like sexual abuse, natural disasters, or war can develop PTSD. In fact, even second-hand exposure to a traumatic event can increase your risk of developing the condition.
- “You develop PTSD as soon as you experience a traumatic event.” A common misconception is that you show symptoms of PTSD immediately after going through a highly stressful event. If your mind has repressed memories, it can take months or years before you start showing symptoms.
- “PTSD makes you violent.” Many people assume that having PTSD makes you unstable, but this is a mischaracterization. Even though having the condition increases the likelihood of irritability, you also become avoidant and socially withdrawn. That’s because you’re scared of coming across anything that can trigger past memories of the event.
- “If it happened a long time ago, you should get over it.” It’s possible to develop the condition many years after you experience trauma. One example includes suffering from childhood trauma and not processing it until you’re an adult. This can happen when you encounter something that triggers a traumatic memory and exacerbates your condition.
- “PTSD is a chronic condition.” Because of the distress accompanied by PTSD, you may feel like you’ll always be scared of encountering triggers. Fortunately, there are different evidence-based treatments you can rely on reprocess the event and move on from your traumatic experience. With the right support, you can lead an independent and happy life.
Let us guide you towards healing
We know that seeking treatment can be overwhelming, but our staff is here to make the process as smooth as possible. We’re available 24/7 to address any questions or concerns you may have.