The Prairie Doc: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complex, diverse condition

Dr. Veronica Radigan
The Prairie Doc
Veronica Radigan, M.D.

Summertime. For most, this signals thoughts of warm weather and good times with family and friends. Sadly, what brings happiness for some can trigger stress and sorrow for others. In the words of a Vietnam War veteran, “The Fourth of July was once my favorite holiday with friends and family…but now it is a day I wish never existed.”

Now ask, what could this veteran, a victim of a farming accident, a female sexual abuse victim, a child who lost his mother to domestic violence and a survivor of a tornado all have in common? The answer is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PTSD is an intense, uncontrollable emotional and physical reaction to a reminder of a traumatic event or distressing memories. Though most people associate this disorder with service members and war, the reality in our society is that PTSD is diverse and far reaching. It is estimated that 70% of the population will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime and current research shows that about 6% of American adults will suffer from PTSD.

The privilege of talking with hundreds of patients has opened my eyes to the variation of PTSD symptoms and its commonplace in our society.

Some PTSD symptoms are intrusive such as distressing memories, dreams or flashbacks. Others experience intense psychological or physiological reactions to triggers. The need for avoidance causes some suffering from PTSD to shut out memories of the event and evade reminders such as people, places, situations or objects.

PTSD can alter mood and thoughts which can lead to feelings of blame, fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame and inability to experience positive emotions. Common symptoms also include irritability and angry outbursts; reckless or self-destructive behaviors such as substance use, hypervigilance and problems with concentrating and sleep.

The reality is that PTSD is complex and affects everybody differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Currently, the main treatments for PTSD are medications and/or psychotherapy. Support from family, friends and groups are crucial to recovery.

It can be difficult to take that first step to ask for help, but, with time and treatment, PTSD can be managed and controlled. Research shows that the symptoms of PTSD last much longer for those not receiving treatment versus those that receive treatment.

By creating more awareness and discussing the diverse nature of PTSD more people will be inspired to get help or give help to those suffering. If you are unsure where to start, ask your family doctor or search for local mental health providers.

Veronica Radigan, M.D., a psychiatrist in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a contributing Prairie Doc® columnist and a guest this week on the Prairie Doc® Q&A show. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook.