Trauma & PTSD: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Many individuals have experienced distressing or disturbing events at some point in their lifetime. Unfortunately, distressing events such as going through a divorce, experiencing a severe injury, or surviving domestic violence occur frequently in our society. When an individual goes through a disturbing experience similar to those previously mentioned, it is referred to as experiencing trauma. In cases of severe or repeated trauma, PTSD may develop.


Trauma results from exposure to an incident, or multiple incidents, that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening. Traumatic experiences cause negative effects on an individual’s ability to function, as well as the state of their mental, physical, emotional, social, and/or spiritual well-being. In other words, trauma is defined as a disturbing event that causes disordered psychic or behavioral states.


When an individual experiences a traumatic event, they are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is defined as a mental illness resulting from exposure to events that involve death, the threat of death or serious injury, as well as emotional trauma such as an abusive relationship.


When left untreated, PTSD can cause an array of psychological, physiological, and social issues. As a result, individuals who have experienced a traumatic event should always seek professional and trauma-informed therapy. If you or a loved one have suffered trauma and believe you may have PTSD, read more to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of trauma and PTSD.


How Trauma Causes PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by being exposed to extreme trauma, including experiencing, witnessing, or even learning about a traumatic experience. Trauma might be a single isolated event, ongoing repeated abuse, or several different incidents combined. Because each individual reacts differently to specific hardships, PTSD can stem from many different types of distressing events.


Examples of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD:

  • Military combat
  • Witnessing violence or death
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Divorce
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Automotive accidents (cars, motorcycles, etc.)
  • Severe injury or illness
  • Traumatic birth (postpartum PTSD)
  • Terrorism
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • Emotional abuse

According to research, 1 in 3 people who experience severe trauma will develop PTSD. However, some individuals may not develop this disorder depending on their mental and emotional stability. After all, some people will cope with their trauma in healthy ways, allowing them to process the event without developing PTSD.


Risk Factors for PTSD

Although some people are at a lower risk for developing PTSD, there are a few factors that make it more likely for an individual to develop this condition after experiencing a traumatic event.


Risk factors for developing PTSD include:

  • Having pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, etc.
  • Not having a support system to rely on
  • Experiencing further trauma or stress in regards to the event
  • Having experienced previous traumas in the past

In addition, researchers have found that brain structure and stress hormones play a role in the development of PTSD after trauma. In individuals with PTSD, the hippocampus of the brain appears to be smaller than a healthy individual. However, it is still unclear whether the hippocampus was smaller prior to the traumatic event, or as a result of.


Whatever the case may be, researchers believe the malfunctioning in the hippocampus could stop the brain from processing trauma properly, leading to PTSD. Additionally, individuals with PTSD have abnormally high levels of stress hormones. These hormones are released during traumatic events, which can cause symptoms of PTSD such as numbness and hyperarousal.


Symptoms of PTSD

Individuals who have experienced trauma may not develop symptoms of PTSD until weeks or months after the incident occurred. As a result, identifying the signs of PTSD is difficult. In fact, PTSD might present itself as a variety of things, like depression, anger issues, or even bipolar disorder. Additionally, PTSD affects many areas of an individual’s life, including sleeping patterns, relationships, self-esteem, and career ability. Because of the possibility of severe symptoms, PTSD must be treated in a professional mental health setting.


If you have experienced trauma and are suffering from any of the following symptoms, you may have PTSD:

  • intrusive thoughts such as not being able to stop thinking about the traumatic event
  • mood changes such as feeling hopeless, numb, anxious, or angry
  • being easily startled or scared
  • feeling overwhelming guilt or shame
  • feeling disinterested in your relationships, career, or hobbies
  • flashbacks, which may make you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event
  • nightmares
  • feeling emotionally distressed when something reminds you of the event
  • struggling to concentrate, sleep, or eat
  • engaging in self-destructive behavior, including substance use
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts
  • panic attacks
  • negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world

Symptoms of PTSD vary from person-to-person and depend on the type of traumatic event that was experienced. Additionally, PTSD symptoms typically begin after an individual has been reminded of the event.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals typically develop symptoms of PTSD within three months of experiencing the traumatic event. However, it is possible for symptoms to show up later as well. If you or a loved one believe you are suffering from PTSD, professional mental health treatment centers are available to help you to regain control of your life.


Treatment for Trauma and PTSD

In the treatment of trauma and PTSD, there are four elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) utilized. Traditional CBT focuses on the relationships among thoughts, behaviors, and feelings as well as focusing on changing patterns of behaviors that lead to difficulties in functioning. Next, patients undergo cognitive processing therapy in which they learn how to modify and challenge unhelpful patterns of thought in relation to their trauma.


The next phase of therapy is referred to as cognitive therapy, where patients begin to modify pessimistic thoughts in relation to their trauma, allowing them to become free from the negative effects of their PTSD. Lastly, PTSD and trauma patients will complete prolonged exposure therapy where they begin to unpack the details of their trauma, teaching them to process their emotions rather than avoid them.


In addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma and PTSD patients may undergo brief eclectic psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and narrative exposure therapy. Because each patient has individual needs, the forms of therapy they receive will vary. In fact, some patients only require individual and group therapy sessions to recover, while others may need medication in order to become stabilized. For example, many trauma and PTSD patients have been prescribed SSRI medications such as sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine. These medications help patients to manage their symptoms during therapy, allowing them to fully focus on their recovery without distraction.


Mental health treatment centers employ trauma-informed therapists who can talk to you about your trauma and give you advice on how to recover. If PTSD is left untreated, individuals may experience an extremely difficult time functioning during their everyday lives. That’s why attending a mental health treatment center that is knowledgeable about trauma and PTSD is vital for one’s recovery. If you or a loved one have PTSD stemming from trauma, contact Voices of Mental Health today for more information on trauma and PTSD treatment.


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