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At any given time, approximately 24.4 million Americans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. People who experience severe traumatic events are more at risk for developing PTSD, and over the course of a lifetime, 70% of Americans will experience a traumatic event. Children are especially vulnerable to PTSD—up to 100% of children who witness violence against a parent will develop PTSD, and at-risk youth are more likely to experience symptoms following a disaster than adults. PTSD can touch anybody at any age. People who experience war, abuse, sexual assault, and other accidents are most at-risk, and victims’ family members and friends can also exhibit symptoms of PTSD.
Veterans Experience A 50% Increase In PTSD
The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have altered the landscape of PTSD. In 2013, the cases of diagnosed PTSD cases among veterans increased 50%. Military service men and women suffer from PTSD at higher rates than the general population (about 7%). One in five combat veterans has been diagnosed with PTSD. Sexual assaults in the military also account for spikes in diagnosed cases of PTSD. Approximately 23% of service women are assaulted, and of these survivors, 71% have developed PTSD. The most alarming statistic regarding the military and PTSD is that every day, a veteran takes his or her life.
Among the many symptoms of PTSD, the onset of major depression disorder (MDD) is the most severe. While depression symptoms vary, harming oneself and others is a real threat. In fact, half of people diagnosed with PTSD will face depression. For those suffering from PTSD, re-experiencing the traumatic event can cause an everyday threat. Nightmares, terrifying thoughts, and flashbacks may be common. Feelings of anxiety, rage, or tenseness can ensue. Compounded with depressive symptoms—loss of interest in activities, difficulty sleeping, emotional numbness, and overall avoidance—and treatment for PTSD can become complicated and ineffective.
Friends Are Better Than Therapists?
A study conducted through Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) highlights the effects of depression on PTSD treatment. Researchers analyzed depressive symptoms in 200 patients with PTSD. Eighty-four of the patients’ treatment involved only taking Zoloft, an antidepressant. The other 116 patients exclusively received 10 Prolonged Exposure therapy sessions (evidence-based psychotherapy focused on revisiting the event and its emotions to gain coping skills). To evaluate the relationship between depression and its effects on treatment, researchers also recorded sudden changes in depressive symptoms (either increases or decreases in severity), as well as social structures for support. The researchers wanted to know: Do support systems from friends and family improve depressive symptoms?
The findings indicate that social support has a significant impact on depressive symptoms, regardless of medication or therapy use as a treatment. The participants who had negative experiences with friends and family demonstrated a spike in depressive symptoms. Such encounters may include being blamed for their condition or being told to get over the initiating event. The overall findings reflect the need for positive support systems and therapists’ roles in helping “PTSD patients to improve the quality of their social relationships”, according to Stephanie Keller, the study’s lead author. Further, mental health professionals should encourage patients to continue with treatment, regardless of increases in depressive symptoms, as temporary spikes did not diminish the overall effectiveness of treatment.
How can you support a loved one struggling with PTSD?
The most important step friends and family can take to support someone with PTSD is to maintain their own mental health. It is common for people to experience PTSD as a result of a loved one’s trauma; seeking professional help not only improves personal insight, but may also help others to understand the victims’ plight more clearly. In addition to personal care, loved ones can also encourage those experiencing PTSD to seek help.
Treatment Options For PTSD?
Because the presence of depression is so prevalent for people with PTSD, recognizing those symptoms and acting accordingly is essential. Researchers, such as Nina Rytwinski from CWRU and the lead investigator of the National Institute of Mental Health-funded PTSD project, suggest that clinicians acknowledge all warning signs and attempt to personalize treatment to reduce both PTSD and depressive symptoms.
A common treatment includes talk therapy (psychotherapy), specifically cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This type of therapy includes modifying thought patterns and includes the following approaches:
Exposure therapy: This type of therapy makes people revisit the initiating event, providing them with strategies to face their fears.
Cognitive restructuring: In this approach, therapists attempt to give people a clearer and more realistic understanding of what happened during the initiating event. PTSD and depression can often confuse patients’ memories, slanting their perspectives.
Stress inoculation training: This therapy consists of anxiety-reducing strategies, helping people focus differently on their memories.
Medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, may also help. However, attending therapy while using medication is recommended.
Not everyone will be able to move beyond the symptoms of PTSD or depression. Victims of mass trauma (think September 11 or the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut), may need to attend group therapy or join social network sites that help people heal together. Whatever the severity of trauma or an individual’s coping abilities, it is paramount that each person seeks help and stays connected with strong support systems.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Case Western Reserve University. (2014, January 23). Depression symptoms, emotional support impact PTSD treatment progress, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 23, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140123154836.htm
Case Western Reserve University. (2013, June 4). Half of those diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 23, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604153515.htm
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml#part3
PTSD: National Center for PTSD. (2014, November 10). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
PTSD Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.ptsdunited.org/ptsd-statistics-2/
Shocking PTSD, suicide rates for vets. (2013, June 5). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from http://www.facethefactsusa.org/facts/the-true-price-of-war-in-human-terms