Mountain Family Health Centers column: Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment works
According to US Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 8 million people in the United States have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Even though PTSD treatments work, most people who have PTSD don’t get the help they need.
Veterans Affairs describes PTSD as a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event like sexual assault, combat, child sexual abuse, a car accident, a natural disaster or other events.
According to the National Center for PTSD, it’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after such an event. It may be hard to do normal daily activities at first, like going to work or school or spending time with loved ones.
But if it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
Fortunately, there is treatment for PTSD that can get rid of PTSD altogether for some people and make symptoms less intense for others.
Who suffers from PTSD?
About seven or eight out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Center for PTSD. This adds up to approximately 8 million adults with PTSD during a given year.
Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD at some point in their lives. About 10 of every 100 women develop PTSD, compared with about four of every 100 men. The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. Rates of sexual assault are higher for women than men, and women are also more likely to be neglected or abused in childhood, to experience domestic violence, or to have a loved one suddenly die.
PTSD is most commonly associated with military servicemembers and veterans. Currently Veterans Affairs is trying to reach and treat veterans struggling with PTSD. Homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely to be affected by PTSD than homeless vets of previous eras, according to the American Psychological Association. An ongoing collaboration called About Face has video clips of military veterans who have shared their stories and experiences seeking help. The videos can be helpful for individuals who are experiencing symptoms and are a great clinical resource for providers to share with clients.
Children also suffer from PTSD: Studies show that up to about 43% of girls and boys experience at least one trauma. Of those children and teens who have had a trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys develop PTSD. Rates of PTSD are higher for certain types of trauma survivors.
Treatment options for the PTSD
The best way to start is by seeing a behavioral (mental) health provider or primary care provider and tell them about your PTSD symptoms. Ask about treatment options.
Trauma-focused psychotherapy and medication are both proven ways to treat PTSD. Often, they are used together.
Trauma-focused psychotherapy means meeting with a behavioral health provider — often called a therapist or counselor — once or twice a week, for 50 minutes or more. Treatment usually lasts for 3 to 4 months. Then, if you still have symptoms, you and your provider can talk about other ways to manage them. Three common kinds of therapy are Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It’s always OK to ask questions about your treatment.
The online PTSD Treatment Decision Aid (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/decisionaid/) is a way to learn about treatment options and which is right for you. Anyone can use the Decision Aid to learn more about treatment options; participants do not have to be service members or military veterans.
Get help, because PTSD doesn’t just ‘go away’
According to the National Center on PTSD, if PTSD isn’t treated, it usually doesn’t get better. It may even get worse. Getting treatment can help keep PTSD from causing problems in relationships, your career, or your education. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can start to feel better.
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