Why PTSD Happens (And Will It Ever Go Away?)
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Around the time of the First World War, many soldiers returning from the front lines suffered from a condition known as “shell shock” – characterized by detached stares, flashbacks, nightmares, and many other vivid symptoms, tied to the horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield. Today, we know that this kind of suffering is not unique to soldiers. It was, in fact, the earliest diagnosed form of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that may affect nearly 10% of the population.
But what causes PTSD, exactly? And more importantly for people who struggle with it, is it possible to treat and reduce symptoms?
Where Does PTSD Come From?
According to the American Psychiatric Association in the link above, PTSD is “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event”. These include natural disasters, serious accidents, war/combat, sexual violence, and many others.
There is no “threshold” for minimum trauma; the level is unique to each person. In fact, it is possible to get PTSD through second-hand exposure – such as learning about something violent that happened to close friends or family – or through repeated exposure to many traumatic situations, such as child abuse investigators.
The Symptoms of PTSD
Everyone experiences PTSD in a different way, but it manifests through intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience, long after the danger has ended. Other symptoms can include:
Flashbacks, nightmares, or mild hallucinations
Overwhelming sadness, fear, or anger
Feelings of detachment and estrangement
Avoidance of situations that remind the sufferer of the original trauma
Strong negative reactions to certain stimuli, like noises or touch
FAQs About PTSD
Where does PTSD occur in the brain?
The areas most impacted are the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. These areas regulate emotions, especially fear, and assist with visual and spatial memory.
Will PTSD last forever? Can PTSD be cured?
Left untreated, PTSD can be a lifelong affliction. However, with the right psychological intervention, it can be treated and controlled – often without the need for medication at all.
Can PTSD be passed down?
Surprisingly, studies have shown that a genetic predisposition to PTSD – not the disorder itself – is hereditary. The studies are ongoing, but it appears that numerous genes involved with memory, emotional control, and behavioural traits interact to make children of PTSD sufferers more susceptible to it, too.
In a similar twist, significant others and caregivers of people with PTSD often end up with symptoms themselves, and they (and the overall relationship) can benefit from therapy as well. Sometimes, the final step of the original client’s treatment is to get their loved ones to seek out help, too.
Treatment of PTSD
While it’s impossible to guarantee a cure, there are methods that have proven quite effective at treating PTSD in Calgary. Some have even allowed people to return to a baseline of mental health, without medication after treatment. These are the most common ones at Flourish Psychological Services, applicable to clients of all ages and professions:
1. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): this method uses stimulation on both sides of the head to mimic the patterns of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the phase of rest when memories are interpreted, stored, and solidified. This can help “frozen” or unprocessed negative memories to shift, causing a new perception that is less distressing and no longer a PTSD trigger.
2. Accelerated resolution therapy (ART): Developed as a variant of EMDR, ART is a more systematic form of eye-movement therapy, using specific guidance from a psychologist to work towards symptom reduction. This method is preferred for people who may not be able to explicitly talk about their trauma, since it requires no discussion of the memories at all. Overall, the experience is calming and relatively fast, with results being possible within a few sessions.
Mental Health Services in Calgary
If any of the above symptoms or situations apply to you, you may suffer from PTSD – and the good news is, we can help. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or to book a phone consultation with one of our team members. We look forward to helping you flourish!