Trauma. Have you ever sat down and tried to understand the real meaning of this word? In simple psychological terms, anything that shakes a living being in a stressful manner is trauma. It may not always be a major catastrophic event for it to be called Trauma. Pain is pain; what may be painful for one person may not be as painful for another. For a mother giving birth, bearing so much pain is trauma, so is it for the baby being born. For a kid, falling while running and suddenly bruising their knee, for a teenager, flunking in a certain examination and dealing with that stress, having to deal with heartbreak, losing a loved one to death – these are all forms of trauma. To put it simply, life is filled with traumas, and we learn, accept, evolve and traverse through this journey while experiencing a multitude of emotions.
If we think about it, mental health conditions have risen over the years; what really is the reason behind it? Humans have layers to them, and the conditioning of an individual during their formative years has a lot to do with how they perceive the world around them. But that’s for professionals to deal with and understand. Personally, I have thought a lot about the word ‘trauma’ over the last two years and really tried to educate myself about it and how it can affect someone. It has made me even more compassionate and thoughtful while dealing with people I encounter, or at least I try my best. Although, fortunately, or unfortunately, I came to an understanding a little early that we know nothing about the ones close to us and how their experiences have shaped them and continue to shape them. I have heard harrowing stories from many people of how things were for them while growing up and all that they had to endure.
So, this PTSD awareness month, I decided to share my knowledge and understanding through this piece. It might just help someone gain a new perspective, but before that, I would like to share a quote by Nikita Gill – ‘Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember…you may not want to endure what they’re enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you, looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.‘
A Brief About PTSD Awareness Month
In 2010, a Senator named Kent Conrad persuaded to get official recognition of PTSD through a ‘day of awareness’ as a tribute to the North Dakota National Guard member who died by suicide following two tours in Iraq. Staff Sergeant Joe Biel died in 2007 from PTSD; he too died by suicide after returning from his duty to his home state. His birthday, which is on 27th June, was officially selected as PTSD Awareness Day and now is observed every year. It is intended to raise public awareness about issues related to PTSD, reduce the stigma around it and help ensure that those suffering from invisible wounds get proper treatment.
PTSD is actually a mental health condition, which is usually triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. The event is usually very prolonged and extremely stressful for an individual to cope with. It’s a condition that develops in 1 out of 3 people who experience severe trauma. However, why it develops only in some individuals and not in others is still not understood. Some common symptoms may include – flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares, trouble concentrating, uncontrollable intrusive thoughts about the event, negative changes in thinking and mood, feeling emotionally numb, lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, hopelessness about the future, memory issues, feeling detached from your loved ones, trouble falling asleep, changes in physical and emotional reactions, overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame, and always being on a lookout for danger.
The symptoms may start to develop within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes they might appear years after the actual event. This is because sometimes our body freezes to protect us from a certain danger, which is our body’s way to protect us. These symptoms can be very severe and cause significant problems in social or work situations, disrupt relationships, or even interfere with a person’s ability to go about their daily tasks; they vary from person to person.
Some common events which can lead to the development of PTSD are – a serious accident, torture, war and conflict, any assault (physical or sexual), abuse (emotional or physical), childhood abuse, exposure to traumatic events, serious health-related problems, childbirth-related experiences (example – losing a baby). Creating awareness and educating ourselves on PTSD and what it looks like in an individual is extremely important. By having the right knowledge, we can give ourselves access to the tools we need to identify and lend a helping hand.
Research shows that nearly 3% – 15% of girls and 1% – 6% of boys develop PTSD due to pre-existing trauma. Teenagers are in their most vulnerable state and don’t always have the right tools to cope with their emotions. Teenage years are full of ups and downs; everything feels bigger than it actually is. PTSD adds to the challenges and can take a huge toll on their mental and physical health. Getting the right help can aid them to get their life on track and build a healthy and happy future.
The intensity of PTSD symptoms can vary over time; an individual may sometimes have those symptoms when stressed in general, while doing their routine activities or being reminded of something they experienced in their past. For example – the sound of loud noises can make someone relive combat experiences, or reading a report of sexual assault can make someone overcome by memories of their own assault.
For children 6 years old and younger, some common signs and symptoms to look out for are:
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
- Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of it through play
Those who have dealt with depression and anxiety in the past or didn’t receive adequate support from family or friends are more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event. Sometimes, it may also be due to a genetic factor; having a parent with a mental health condition may increase someone’s chances of developing the condition.
It’s still not clear why someone would develop PTSD, but some of the possible reasons are:
Survival Mechanism: The feeling of being ‘on edge’ (or hyperarousal) may develop to help you react quickly in other crisis. Although these responses may be intended to help you survive, they’re very unhealthy in reality, as stress accumulated over time makes it difficult to process and move on from the traumatic experience.
Changes in Brain: The hippocampus of our brain is responsible for processing emotions and memory. It appears smaller in size for people dealing with PTSD, and the part of the brain involved in emotional processing appears different in brain scans. A malfunctioning hippocampus prevents the brain from processing trauma. Timely treatment of PTSD helps process the memories, so flashbacks and nightmares gradually disappear with time.
High Adrenaline Levels: Adrenaline is a stress hormone produced in the body to trigger a reaction (known as ‘fight or flight’) when it is in danger; it helps numb the senses and dulls the pain. It has been proven through many studies that people who have PTSD have increased stress hormones, and the body produces them even in situations when there’s no potential threat.
When you start to have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month and the symptoms are severe, you must consider talking to a mental health professional. Early intervention can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
Whether you or someone you know needs help:
- Make an appointment with a doctor or a mental health professional
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to a close friend or a trusted loved one
Spreading the word is essential to create awareness:
- Educate – Before raising awareness on a topic, it is imperative to have the right information. Read books, search the web and watch videos, talk to people. These are ways to educate yourself on PTSD, its effects and available treatment options.
- Reach out to more people – Sharing what you know creates a domino effect, and someone has to be the one who starts a movement. Tell others about PTSD and help them with the facts.
- Speak out – Your voice can change someone’s life; let people know you’re there to support. Help people know and discover the resources available to them. If you know someone struggling with PTSD, take action and help them discover the right resources and treatments available.
Whenever we experience trauma, it gets stored in the body and the nervous system. The next time you experience prolonged pain in any part of your body, ask yourself, what stress/load am I carrying within me? The best way to lighten yourself is through meditation. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for restoring the body to a calm and composed state.
This life is precious, and we all are here for a reason; there’s a purpose behind each individual’s existence. So, never hesitate to reach out for help and if you’ve never struggled with a mental health issue, try to become more aware. In fact, having pain denied is also a form of trauma. We believe we know what is best for others, but we don’t. This helps lend the right kind of support, and always remember, recovery is possible. We all have the ability to heal ourselves; all we need is the right knowledge and a trusted support system. So, celebrate this beautiful thing called life and always count your blessings! Wishing you all good health (mental and physical).