When most people hear the term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they envision soldiers who return from war. Indeed, our brave soldiers bring their battles home with them. People often do not recognize that many different groups of people suffer from PTSD, however. Anyone can experience PTSD as a result of chronic trauma, whether it’s your cousin, co-worker, or child. Holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day present the opportunity to engage in conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder with friends, family, and neighbors. It’s an important topic not only on behalf of our honorable war veterans but also for our precious children.
How PTSD happens
Posttraumatic stress disorder occurs as a result of chronic trauma, including the experience or witnessing of death, violence, or child abuse. When these events occur, the stress hormone cortisol gets released in the brain. This biochemical reaction to such chronic and extreme stress changes the formation of the brain.
Consider this analogy—think of the human brain like the earth and water like trauma. Over time, the release of water over the earth begins to erode the soil into pathways. As pathways form, the water rushes down those pathways again and again until they become canyons. Like the earth, the brain looks physically different than it once did. Therefore, the brain reacts differently as a result. When the brain experiences a trauma trigger, fear becomes an overwhelming irrational emotion. The brain automatically goes into survival mode and the person fights, flees, or freezes in his own way. Such triggers only make the erosion and canyons deeper.
What PTSD looks like
People can’t physically see the wounds of those suffering from PTSD. Therefore, many go without help. It’s important to identify the symptoms so you can assist others in getting the professional help they need.
Symptoms of PTSD in children (a.k.a developmental trauma/RAD):
- Lack ability to focus to complete tasks and filter nonessential information out
- Physically act out
- Act out in school
- Get poor grades in school
- Have trouble making friends
- Have trouble regulating emotion
- Get “stuck” on things that happened yesterday, last week, etc.
- Have an eating disorder
- Use drugs/alcohol
- Mistrust others
- Compliant, aggressive, or avoidant
Symptoms of PTSD in adults:
- Poor memory
- Lack of focus
What you can do
War veterans and children with PTSD typically do not speak up when they need help. Soldiers learn not to ask for help and may avoid talking about their feelings. Children with developmental trauma are in survival mode, do not trust adults, and rely only upon themselves. Both groups need others to recognize when they are struggling. Helpful people include a wife who encourages her veteran husband to seek professional help, a father who recognizes PTSD symptoms and seeks help for his child, or a school counselor who recognizes PTSD in a child and reaches out to her parents.
Neither love nor time will make PTSD go away on its own, unfortunately. The erosion is too deep. Only effective treatment and efficient coping skills can begin to stop the water from further eroding the soil. The sooner people with PTSD get the help they need, the better their chances of recovery. The phrase, “Time heals all wounds,” most definitely doesn’t apply to PTSD. If you care about a person who may have PTSD—whether you are a close friend or relative—speak up and assist her in finding professional help. That person probably can’t do it for himself and the water will continue to erode. You can make a difference.