Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects many more more people in the United States than you may realize. In fact, about 7 to 8 percent of Americans will have PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.
Anyone can develop PTSD after a traumatic event, but some people may have higher risk. Up to 20 percent of veterans have PTSD in a given year. And 10 percent of women develop PTSD at some point, compared with 4 percent of men.
If you or someone you love is experiencing PTSD, it’s it’s important to know that PTSD is a mental health condition—and treatment is available. Here’s what else you should know.
1. What Is PTSD?
PTSD is defined as a long-lasting reaction to experiencing a traumatic of frightening event. These events can include:
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious injury
- Natural disaster
Many people experience stress and other emotions after a traumatic event. However, not everyone develops PTSD. If you experience symptoms for longer than four weeks or if they interfere with your daily life, you may have PTSD.
While the term “PTSD” first appeared during the Vietnam War, the appearance of the disorder has existed as long as humans. The term has evolved over time from “nostalgia” in the Civil War to “shell shock” in World War I to “battle fatigue” in World War II to “operational exhaustion” in the Korean War. Shell Shock, my novel, is a historical thriller that actually traces this evolution of understanding of PTSD from World War I to the present.
2. Common Symptoms of PTSD
People with PTSD may experience a range of symptoms, which are categorized into four major types:
- Reliving the traumatic event
- Changes in beliefs and feelings
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event
- Feeling jittery or alert, which is called “hyperarousal”
PTSD can be complex, and people with PTSD may also experience other issues, including:
- Depression or anxiety
- Problems with drugs or drinking
- Chronic pain or other physical symptoms
- Emotional issues with maintaining relationships or jobs
3. Treatment for PTSD
Treatment may differ from person to person, but most individuals find that a combination of approaches can be effective. This can include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), such as exposure therapy
As for medications, several different types have been used with success. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can reduce feelings of depression, are one of the most common medications prescribed. In Prescriber’s Guide, I cover the range of psychotropic drugs that can be used to treat PTSD.
Pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing can be an extremely helpful tool in guiding medication treatment options for PTSD. It can assist your clinician in choosing a medication and dosage that may work well for your body, whether you are new to treatment or if your current treatment is not working.
Genomind® Professional PGx Express™, for example, looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:
- Which medications will likely be the most effective
- Which medications may have side effects
- How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance
The Genomind test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn more about Genomind here.
If you are a veteran, PTSD treatment and the Genomind test are available through the VA. Find your local VA here.
4. How to Get Involved
Despite its prevalence, PTSD is still stigmatized today because many people do not understand it or consider it a health condition.
If you have experienced a traumatic event and are contuinuing to experience symptoms, talk to your primary care doctor or a mental heath clinician.
If someone you know has PTSD, consider offering your support. Check out this resource list from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Does Your Medication Work for You?
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About the Author
Stephen Stahl, MD, PhD, a Genomind Scientific Advisory Board member, is an internationally recognized clinician, researcher, and teacher in psychiatry with expertise in psychopharmacology.