SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), commonly associated with those who have served in the military, can impact anyone who’s gone through trauma.
Around seven out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and 3.5% of adults have been diagnosed with the disorder.
For PTSD Awareness Month, local mental health experts hope to shed light on the illness and the treatment options available for those suffering.
“It’s really important to create space to talk about it, mainly because a lot of people with PTSD don’t seek treatment,” said therapist Mary Beth McLeod with the Coastal Harbor Health System, a community resource that assists individuals and families in crisis.
Their Savannah-based experts offer individualized and group therapies, as well as around-the-clock help when PTSD symptoms become so severe that sufferers resort to substance abuse or other means to cope.
“It’s a good starting point for people in crisis that need to figure out a plan for their continued treatment with PTSD and other mental health issues,” McLeod told WSAV.com NOW.
“It’s important for people experiencing these symptoms to seek treatment because there is help, and there are treatments that do work,” she said.
Causes and symptoms
PTSD can arise from witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event as well as repeated exposure to danger or violence, McLeod shared.
“We see it a lot in first responders, survivors of accidents or natural disasters, survivors of different kinds of abuse, [including] sexual assault or abuse, physical abuse or even emotional or mental abuse,” said McLeod.
She adds that it’s tough to say what exactly qualifies as a traumatic event, because not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.
“It’s important, though, that if you’re experiencing difficult symptoms for a long period of time that you seek out help with those symptoms,” McLeod said.
PTSD symptoms can include nightmares, unwanted memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of events that bring up memories of past trauma, heightened reactions in general or increased anxiety and depression, according to McLeod.
Coping with PTSD
Loved ones of those affected may notice that PTSD sufferers can struggle to open up or deal with the trauma, which could also lead them to avoid seeking the help they need.
“Family members can encourage loved ones to get treatment and also seek out help from mental health professionals to get support and a better understanding of how best to help their family member,” McLeod said.
She notes that it’s not only military members who are affected.
“A lot of times when we think of PTSD, we do think of the military because it is one of the most significant mental health issues impacting them,” she said, adding, “Anyone experiencing a traumatic event or repeated exposure to trauma can definitely develop PTSD, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms for a long time after a traumatic event.”
For those that have served and come home with PTSD, the upcoming July 4th holiday and its noisy fireworks may be particularly stressful.
“A lot of fireworks can definitely be tough for some individuals with PTSD, especially maybe combat-related PTSD or similar issues,” McLeod said.
“If you’re an individual with these issues, consult with your mental health professional to come up with the best plan to make sure that you feel safe and supported,” she said.
For people living within a neighborhood or community, she recommended being cognizant of who’s living around them, and be as supportive as they can of their neighbors with PTSD during the Independence Day holiday.
‘There is hope’
McLeod says there are a number of different psychotherapies available that have been found to be “extremely effective” at treating many PTSD-related symptoms.
Those struggling with the disorder may also be prescribed medications in combination with psychotherapy.
“Find what’s right for you, consult with a medical or mental health professional to see what treatment might be best for your specific needs and issues,” McLeod said.
“One of the most important messages around PTSD awareness is that there is treatment that can help to alleviate symptoms of PTSD,” she said, adding, “There is hope to lead a better quality of life.”