PTSD is a common disorder among people who have experienced trauma. However, it’s a condition that many people are not familiar with; it’s surrounded by stigmas and misconceptions. Here’s what you need to know about PTSD and how it can affect everyday life.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is short for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and according to the American Psychiatric Association, it’s a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Types of trauma that can result in PTSD include, but are not limited to:
- Natural disasters
- Serious accidents
- War, combat, torture
- Sexual or physical assault
- Medical trauma
Many people are most familiar with PTSD as it pertains to veterans, and it’s true that many soldiers return home with PTSD because of the things they experienced on the battlefield. However, PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of whether they’re in the military, and regardless of ethnicity, culture, age, or nationality. The American Psychiatric Association states that one in 11 people will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime, and that women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will be diagnosed with PTSD. Instead, PTSD develops in about one in three people who experience a severe type of trauma.
How Does PTSD Affect People?
Daily life with PTSD can be a struggle. People with PTSD often struggle with depression and anxiety, too; for instance, a woman who experienced a sexual assault may have intense anxiety when she is around men or when she goes to the part of town where it happened. Individuals with PTSD tend to avoid reminders of the trauma they experienced – whether that means simply not talking about their past or going far out of their way to avoid people, activities, and places that might bring up bad memories.
Other symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, which are intrusive thoughts that bring up unwanted and distressing memories. PTSD also might cause negative thoughts such as “I can’t trust anybody; I’m alone in the world” and can also result in lots of anger in addition to trouble sleeping. All of these issues make daily life difficult.
How Does PTSD Affect Family and Friends?
In most cases, it’s not just one person who is affected by PTSD; friends and family members will feel the effects, too. One study showed that Vietnam veterans have more marital problems and family violence; their partners are more distressed, and their children have more behavior problems than the partners and families of veterans who don’t have PTSD.
The anger, detachment, and other emotions caused by PTSD can make someone hard to live with. Family members and friends want to help their loved one who has PTSD, but are often not sure how; after all, they can’t understand what that person has gone through.
How Can Friends and Family Help?
One of the most important things PTSD patients plus their friends and family members can do is to familiarize themselves with the condition. Understanding things like avoidance, dissociation, and hyperarousal can make a big difference in day-to-day life. For instance, a husband may feel as if his wife is ignoring him when she’s unable to follow the conversation, when really she might be hyperaroused or was suddenly triggered and experienced a flashback.
Patients and family members can work together to identify and understand a patient’s triggers. That can help everyone avoid a situation that might not turn out well. Group counseling may also help families that are struggling due to PTSD.
Can An Emotional Support Animal Help?
Yes – an emotional support animal can absolutely improve the life of someone with PTSD. Dogs can tell when their owner is being overwhelmed, and they have an uncanny way of making their humans smile. Dogs are also a good way to combat feelings of detachment, as they need lots of love – and unlike humans, dogs won’t criticize or judge someone with PTSD and related symptoms. Also, dogs simply provide a reason to get up in the morning; they have to be fed, taken care of, and walked. For someone who may struggle to function day-to-day, taking care of an ESA dog can help create a routine and a reason to get out of bed.
PTSD dogs can be emotional support animals or full-fledged service dogs. Emotional support animals simply provide comfort, which can be much-needed for someone with PTSD. However, if an individual with PTSD needs something more, they can also partner with a service dog, who is trained to perform specific tasks (such as recognizing a dissociative episode and applying gentle teeth pressure to the forearm, or searching a room for someone who is hyper-vigilant). PTSD is a difficult condition to deal with, but an ESA dog can help.