June is PTSD Awareness Month
Gregory S. Brown, Psy.D., clinical neuropsychologist at Shepherd Center, sheds light on PTSD and the road to recovery.
Imagine navigating life, always feeling that something bad is around every corner. Everyday experiences for most people become an ominous warning to you, triggering intense anxiety, fear and hypervigilance. Your mind is constantly barraged with intrusive thoughts about an experience long past, but it feels like you are frozen at that moment.
Imagine being afraid of going to sleep every night only to be awakened by your worst nightmares and then struggling to differentiate whether you are still asleep or awake. You are unable to trust anyone and are skeptical of those whom you hold most dear, leaving you feeling alone and isolated. Imagine dealing with this every single day, struggling to find a way out, but every door leads you back to that one experience that you want so desperately to forget.
You become exhausted, withdrawn, hopeless and ready to give up on life. This is just a sample of the many experiences and emotions in the daily lives of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During this PTSD Awareness Month, I want to share an overview of what the disorder is and what you can do if you or someone you know may struggle with it. PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying or life-threatening event. Symptoms of PTSD may include intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety causing significant disruption to one’s daily life. Events that may lead to PTSD include combat exposure, serious accidents or injury, physical and sexual assault, abuse (childhood and domestic), serious health problems or the unexpected death of a loved one.
Almost everyone experiences at least some symptoms of PTSD in their lifetime in response to a traumatic event. For most people, however, the symptoms are short-lived once the event has passed. With PTSD, individuals are unable to process their emotions and cope, resulting in a persistent state of psychological distress.
Although commonly associated with military veterans and active duty service members, PTSD is a disorder that affects a wide range of people. According to a 2018 report by the National Center for PTSD, 11% to 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. About 8 million adults in the general population have PTSD in a given year. PTSD affects more women (10 of every 100) versus men (four of every 100). About 3% to 15% of children and teens who have experienced a trauma will develop PTSD, with the greatest prevalence in girls.
The road to recovery from PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process. If you suspect that you or a loved one has PTSD, seek help right away. Effective treatments for PTSD include evidence-based talk therapies and medications. Trauma-focused therapies, such as prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy, have been shown to be most effective.
While professional treatment and intervention is recommended, it is important for you to be actively engaged in your healing outside of the therapy space. Reach out to friends and loved ones for support. While you may be tempted to continue to withdraw and isolate from others, staying connected with people who love and care about you is an important component of managing your symptoms. Taking the initiative to learn about trauma and PTSD, joining a support group and volunteering your time to help others are all avenues to overcome feeling helpless and powerless, which are commonly associated with trauma recovery. Support PTSD treatment by making healthy lifestyle choices: Take time to relax, eat healthy, avoid alcohol and drugs, exercise and get enough sleep.
Most people with PTSD do not get the treatment and support they need. Everyone with PTSD, whether they are veterans or civilians, needs to know they are not alone, and there are effective treatments that lead to a better quality of life. You can help others by spreading the word.
Gregory S. Brown, Psy.D., joined the Neuropsychology Department at Shepherd Center on January 15, 2018, as the clinical neuropsychologist for the SHARE Military Initiative and the Complex Concussion Clinic. Dr. Brown earned his doctoral degree in 2014 from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology. He completed his internship at the Central Arkansas VA with a concentration in neuropsychology and a two-year APPCN postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology at Shepherd Center. Prior to his return to Shepherd Center, Dr. Brown worked as a neuropsychologist at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA in the Army Intrepid Spirit and Traumatic Brain Injury Program. His current clinical focus is neuropsychological assessment and intervention of mild traumatic brain injury in both veteran and civilian populations. Dr. Brown also currently serves as a Major League Soccer consulting neuropsychologist for Atlanta United.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.