PTSD — or post-traumatic stress disorder — isn’t new. During the Civil War, people often referred to these symptoms as “soldier’s heart” and, by World War I, “shell shock.”

While PTSD has a long history, it gained new understanding in 1980 when it became an official diagnosis. People also learned that anyone could experience a trauma that causes lasting mental health problems, not just military veterans.

At Compass Mental Health & Wellness in Houston, our compassionate team applies their military experience to help both veteran and civilian patients living with PTSD. Here are a few ways trauma can impact your mental health and the risk factors for developing PTSD.

How to recognize PTSD

First, it’s important to note that it’s common to have problems coping after experiencing something traumatic. What sets PTSD apart is that symptoms often become worse instead of better, even lasting for months or years and interfering with daily life. You can also develop PTSD years after the trauma occurs.

Signs of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks that force you to relive the trauma
  • Disturbing nightmares or dreams about the event
  • Unwanted and recurring memories of the trauma that cause distress
  • Avoiding things that remind you of the event, including thinking or talking
  • Experiencing physical or emotional distress when reminded of the trauma

PTSD symptoms can also affect your mood, self-confidence, outlook, and relationships.

Causes of PTSD

As we mentioned above, PTSD first gained attention as a condition affecting military veterans exposed to combat situations or other forms of violence. However, 8 million Americans live with post-traumatic stress disorder — and those numbers don’t include children who can also live through traumas resulting in PTSD.

In addition to combat exposure, examples of traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include:

  • Physical abuse during childhood
  • Sexual violence
  • Assault
  • Threats with a weapon
  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Unexpected death of a loved one
  • Life-threatening medical diagnoses

You can even develop PTSD by seeing or learning about trauma instead of experiencing it yourself.

Risk factors for developing PTSD

Approximately 70% of American adults have had a traumatic event at some point in their life, but only 20% develop PTSD in response. That’s because certain factors can increase your chances of developing this mental health condition.

Like most mental health problems, PTSD often occurs because of a mix of things, such as:

  • The amount and severity of stressful experiences you’ve had over your lifetime
  • How your brain regulates stress response chemicals and hormones
  • Inherited characteristics, such as mental health conditions and temperament
  • A history of trauma in early life, such as abuse during childhood
  • An occupation that exposes you to traumatic events
  • The intensity and duration of the trauma

Your chances of experiencing PTSD in response to trauma also increases if you have other mental health problems — such as depression or anxiety — or a blood relative with one of these conditions.

Getting help for PTSD

Fortunately, our team understands the complex nature of PTSD.

After meeting you and diagnosing your condition, we create a holistic, integrative approach to help you regain a sense of control over your life. This often includes a multipronged strategy, ranging from healthy lifestyle changes and prescription medications to psychotherapy.

We also provide the tools you need to manage your symptoms, so you can handle them when they arise. However, treating the underlying cause of your PTSD can significantly reduce flashbacks and other symptoms that come into play.

If you or someone you love has PTSD, book an appointment online or over the phone with Compass Mental Health & Wellness today.

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