When people hear PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) many immediately think of soldiers and veterans, but PTSD can affect ANYONE from child to adult! What is PTSD? It’s a disorder that develops in some people after they have experienced or witnessed a traumatic, scary, or dangerous event. These events could include but are not limited to abuse, assault, war, traffic accidents, finding a person who has committed suicide, animal attacks, and even listening to people tell you about their traumatic experiences.
Some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD include recurrent nightmares, flashbacks of the event, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance, intentional avoidance of feelings and thoughts or discussions about the event, difficulty concentrating, depression, and guilt. The symptoms must be persistent for at least one month before the PTSD diagnosis can be made. When it comes to children with PTSD there are slight differences in that many of their symptoms will show up in their play.
We hear children suffering from abuse, adults witnessing or being a victim in a violent crime, war, and other major events that can cause PTSD but there are other groups that can also suffer because of the type of job they have. Many of our first responders, firefighters, police, and EMS personnel see so much trauma on a daily basis it’s not surprising that they can suffer from PTSD. Another part of first responders are the 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers. They sit in a room and take call after call dealing with everything from providing a phone number to talking to a person who is having the absolute worst day of their life. These calls add up over time and there is rarely, if ever, any closure as to what happened or if the person ended up being okay or not. The dispatchers are on the radio and can send help to other officers, but when an event such as an officer getting shot or hurt occurs, they cannot physically go and help, they can only listen to the screams for help and deal with the flood of radio traffic that comes in immediately thereafter. These people have ongoing rises in adrenaline with no way to release it. They can’t get up in the middle of a call or radio event until that event is finished and then they are expected to keep working and move on to the next call or dispatch the next officer. The continual fluctuations of adrenaline with no time or place to really release any of it builds up and if left undealt with can turn to PTSD. Other groups could be CPS workers, animal control officers, and crime scene clean-up crews. There are so many other groups that through their work are at risk for developing PTSD that I couldn’t possibly mention them all here.
The word trauma can mean so many things to so many people and each person experiences a traumatic event differently. This is why only some people end up with PTSD. One of the hardest things a person with PTSD has to do is to realize that they have a problem, as many people cannot accept hearing it from a friend, loved one, or a stranger until they reach such a point that they admit something is wrong. This is the most important first step to the recovery process.
What can you do to help prevent PTSD? Find an outlet, something that you enjoy that helps you relieve stress such as running, journaling, or playing an instrument. Talk about the things that are bothering you with someone you trust. Eat healthy and exercise. If you or someone you know develops ongoing symptoms and these things are not helping please seek professional help!
– Written by Anne Wiggs, MA, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Jennie Fincher, Ph.D., LPC-S