A particularly disturbing picture of a former British Army private holding a large sword he sleeps with under his pillow appeared on the website Bag News in May 2010.
The image appeared within the article “War, PTSD, Soldiers, and Prison,” analyzing the impact of the war on both American and British prisons. This man who sleeps with his sword – Michael Clohessy – had served time in a British prison for addiction and aggression issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder – or PTSD.
Sleeping with his cheek on top of a sword that looks like a weapon used in a gruesome, swash-buckling movie, gives him some “solace” the article states, “perhaps protection, but brings us concern and a troubling glimpse of a life riddled with PTSD.”
This picture and the weapon Clohessy has selected to sleep with – not under his bed or stashed in a nearby corner but under his pillow – demonstrates the level of anxiety that PTSD can invoke.
And thanks to media coverage surrounding issues of PTSD and those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the condition is now more recognized, and becoming better understood.
However, PTSD does not only affect soldiers and veterans. PTSD affects anyone who has witnessed or gone through a traumatic experience. Natural disasters, terrorist incidents, any type of serious accident, and physical, sexual, and verbal abuse as a child or in adulthood can all lead to PTSD. Violent acts committed against individuals also cause PTSD, and those who work as emergency responders are at risk for developing the disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is the only anxiety disorder that requires an etiology – or specific “cause” for its diagnosis, meaning that the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event or events led to the development of the disorder.
PTSD can happen at any age, and it affects nearly eight million American adults, according to Mental Health America. It’s a mental health disorder categorized as an anxiety disorder, a category that also includes social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and specific phobias.
Symptoms of PTSD
A number of individuals who experience trauma will often also experience a period of distress reliving the event, having problems with sleep, or returning to work, school, and the functions of daily living.
After a brief time period, however, many are able to work through the distress, and again begin normal functioning. Those who can’t, whose lives seem to unravel, who start having deeper, lasting problems, develop PTSD. Without treatment, symptoms worsen, and the condition begins to affect several areas of functioning, from work to home life, sometimes becoming so severe that long-term disability follows.
Common symptoms of PTSD may include:
Continually Thinking About the Traumatic Event
A constant replay of the event can torment individuals, or the thoughts of the event occur when trying to focus or concentrate on something else. Nightmares and upsetting dreams are also a sign of the disorder.
A Constant State of Urgency or Alertness
Individuals feel a state of jitteriness, for minutes, hours, or even whole days and weeks. The body responds to this urgency with headaches, diarrhea, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and sore muscles and joints.
A continual state of irritability not only affects relationships, but also translates into an increased chance of temper outbursts. For some, overly aggressive and violent behaviors become problematic.
Avoidance and Becoming Emotionally Numb
Individuals with PTSD will avoid people, situations, or cues that remind them of the traumatic event. They will also start avoiding people and events they love or greatly enjoy, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Emotional numbness invades all aspects of their lives, a numbness that makes individuals retreat further into deeper cycles of isolation and sadness.
Children and PTSD
Trauma in a child’s early developmental stages shapes a child’s personality, perceptions, and beliefs about life, meaning that early treatment for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder is required to prevent a host of learning and social deficits that would otherwise last a lifetime.
Childhood trauma results from seeing someone die or seriously injured, or the experience of witnessing the threat of death or injury to others or oneself. This can result from natural disasters, accidents, or being the victim of a crime. Experiencing or witnessing physical, sexual, and verbal abuse also leads to PTSD as well as the diagnosis of an illness or living with a parent or sibling who has become ill.
Similar to adults, some children who witness or experience traumatic events develop PTSD, while others do not. It still is not clear to those in the mental health professions why this happens to be case.
Yet both children and adults who have PTSD show the same symptoms: feeling endangered, overwhelming emotions, and complete helplessness.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the child’s risk of developing PTSD depends on the extent or seriousness of the trauma, if the trauma occurs repeatedly, and the child’s closeness to the trauma.
The academy also notes that children who have experienced a trauma often demonstrate emotional numbing called dissociation. Uncontrollable anger or disabling sadness also can present themselves in children with PTSD.
Early intervention in the form of psychotherapy, which can involve art or music therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy have all proved highly effective for treating children who develop this life-changing disorder.
PTSD Warning Signs
In addition to those symptoms listed above, individuals who have experienced trauma or those who are close to a trauma victim should watch for the following problematic behaviors:
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Trust issues
- Inability to form and keep close relationships
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope
- Sleep problems
- Chronic pain
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts and preoccupations
The mental health community has developed many effective treatments and interventions for those with PTSD. Mental Health America’s (MHA) website states that psychotherapy, medicine, and support groups are all tools used to help conquer the disorder.
MHA, a mental health advocacy organization, identifies the most effective forms of psychotherapy used today as the following: cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy. The organization also cites Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a PTSD treatment.
Couples and families also might require counseling since PTSD affects not only the victim, but also those in relationship with the PTSD sufferer.
If you find helping individuals, families, and couples meaningful, especially for mental health conditions such as PTSD, consider a career in the field of Mental Health Counseling.
A master’s degree is required for counseling and therapy positions, and almost all states require licensing. Contact schools offering counseling programs today to request information on how to pursue a career in mental health counseling.