Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Most people think of soldiers when they think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of the severe trauma related to combat and war. While military personnel represent many people suffering from PTSD, many other groups, are equally susceptible.

Concern over the daily trauma police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others involved in emergency services are exposed to, has recently prompted Ontario to be the first province to pass legislation to support first responders with PTSD. Research has clearly linked PTSD and work related exposures for first responders and with diagnosis by a mental health professional, they can get the support they need from Work Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD involves a long-term reaction to an extremely traumatic event or stressor. A disruption to daily functioning is common for most people experiencing trauma, but PTSD sufferers develop debilitating responses that impact their daily functions and relationships. Studies indicate that people with other psychological and biological factors may be at higher risk for PTSD.

What causes PTSD?

As per its name, PTSD is a response to either witnessing or being involved in a serious trauma or dangerous situation, while this is not an exhaustive list, below are some examples of triggers for PTSD:

  • Military combat
  • Incarceration of any kind
  • Violent personal assault
  • Violent attack or death of another person
  • Severe accident, not limited to work related or auto but all types of accidents
  • Terrorist attack
  • Natural disaster
  • Sexual or physical abuse as a child
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • Physical threat of harm

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a patient must demonstrate these symptoms for at least one month and their symptoms must pose significant interference in performing daily task like working, going to class, or socializing.

Re-experiencing the trauma through:

  • Memories, images and thoughts
  • Dreams, nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep fighting
  • Flashbacks or hallucinations
  • Emotionally or physically upset from triggers or reminders (e.g., anniversary date, location)

Avoiding triggers and reminders of the trauma by:

  • Not allowing thoughts or feelings of the trauma
  • Staying away from activities, people, places or conversations related to the trauma

Negative changes in mood or personality, such as:

  • Amnesia about important issues related to the trauma
  • Severe and persistent negativity about self and everyone else
  • Distorted blaming self or others for the trauma
  • Apathetic feelings toward socializing, work and hobbies
  • Consistent negative emotions and unable to be happy
  • Detachment or decreased awareness from others or surroundings
  • Abandon faith, blame God
  • Trust issues
  • Emotional numbness

Arousal and Reactivity, including at least two symptoms:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritable, anger outbursts, temper tantrums
  • Easily startled
  • Reckless behaviour
  • Hypervigilance and always on guard

Complex PTSD symptoms involve both physical and emotional responses:

  • Headaches, chest pains, stomach aches, night sweats and dizziness
  • Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and phobias
  • Trouble maintaining relationships with friends and family
  • Psychotic events
  • Self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, cutting, self-mutilation, excessive tattooing
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

PTSD symptoms in First Responders

First-responders include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, certain workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services, and emergency response teams. Due to the daily traumas experienced by emergency personnel, some people believe that the symptoms (if they don’t subside) are related to their own inadequacies or failure in their jobs. Quite often individuals in these high paced environments may have difficulty identifying that they are suffering and/or refuse to ask for help for their PTSD. This tends to create personal anxiety, poor health, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, withdrawal, burnout and sometimes, suicide.

PTSD symptoms in Women

According to the Statistics Canada, “women are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as men.” This is in part to difference between the sexual assault trauma cases in women versus men and the self-blame and shaming that accompanies many of these assaults. Although the statistics show that women are twice as likely to experience PTSD, they are also more likely to seek help after a trauma.
Another interesting difference is that women First Responders are in the minority and are often required to act more “manly” sometimes repressing their emotional reactions and fear and can manifest as symptoms of PTSD.

PTSD symptoms in Men

Men with PTSD can differ from women in their expression. This may be in the form of anger and outburst. Depending on their socialization and working environments, they may be less comfortable sharing feelings about the trauma and may delay getting support.

PTSD symptoms in Children

Children can also be affected by PTSD and experience similar symptoms to adults. They may also have trouble with bedwetting, separation anxiety when leaving a parent, or may re-enact the traumatic event through play. Research has shown that children are likely to blame themselves for the abuse, have more difficulty verbalizing what is happening to them or how they are feeling and may manifest their anxiety through complaints of headaches or stomach aches.

Living with PTSD

PTSD is serious and can be life threatening. Getting help is the key to living a life of quality. We have so much more information on signs and symptoms and have access to a range of effective treatments. While treatments programs are designed to meet the needs of the individual, below are some examples of the components that can be used.

PTSD Treatment

Counseling/Therapy – support to process thoughts and learn coping strategies:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Anxiety management
  • Exposure to trauma cues and memories

Medication – to assist with symptom management:

  • antidepressants
  • Pain management medications
  • Medicinal Cannabis for anxiety reduction and sleep/wake cycle management

Physical Rehabilitation – to assist with symptom management or rehabilitate:

Every PTSD program is specifically designed to meet the goals of the individual and assist in increasing the quality of their life. Be sure to discuss your treatment goals at your PTSD assessment.

Commonly Asked Questions

Do I Have PTSD?

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event and have experienced more than four of the symptoms noted above for more than a month, you may have PTSD and should speak to a health professional. We can help facilitate an assessment at our clinic and get you on the road to better health. Click here to book an appointment with our therapist.

What can I expect from my therapy?

You and your therapist should work as a team to choose a specific treatment plan for you. You should understand the expected duration of the treatment and way in which you can monitor your progress. If you do not feel that you are progressing at all, it is important to talk to your therapist and then seek additional support if required.

How serious is PTSD?

If left untreated, PTSD can be life threatening. It can prevent you from leading a normal, joyful life. It can lead to alcohol or drug problems, employment problems, relationship issues, physical symptoms, feelings of despair and possibly suicide. If you believe you have PTSD or that someone close to you has PTSD, , seek professional help immediately. We can help facilitate an assessment at our clinic and get you on the road to better health. Click here to book an appointment with our therapist.

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