This is part 2 in my series on PTSD. See part 1, “How the Brain Is Physically Changed With PTSD,” here.

Soldiers of the Connecticut National Guard's 143rd MP Co, currently stationed in Afghanistan, say a prayer for the families and the community of Newtown, CT. (US National Guard photo)

Soldiers of the Connecticut National Guard’s 143rd MP Co, stationed in Afghanistan, say a prayer for the families and the community of Newtown, CT. (US National Guard photo, December 18, 2012.)

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Say someone is robbed at gunpoint, or they’re walking down the street and their best friend is shot and killed in front of them. We think to ourselves, “Poor person. How can they ever cope with something like that?” Certainly we expect they’re going to need counseling.

Soldiers in a war zone may face these same events over and over, for days or weeks upon end. Others are abused behind closed doors.

These people, and many others, are at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Because so many people have PTSD in wartimes (like right now), we learn a lot during these times about treating the disorder, not only in soldiers but in the public at large.

At this point, we’ve learned that group and/or individual psychological therapy is one of the most effective treatments. In addition, prescription medications can significantly help many with PTSD. The many types of medicine alternatives depend upon the specific symptoms being suffered. Just like with any disorder, different people will respond to different treatments.

With time and treatment, many people with PTSD get much better and live as normal a life as one can expect, having gone through what they have. Research is ongoing to figure out how to get better at treating everyone.

If you think you may have PTSD, please talk to the VA or your family doctor about treatment, or take it upon yourself to seek out mental health services and support groups.

The Long-Term Consequences of PTSD

Through treatment, most people can avoid many long-term consequences of PTSD. These may include:

  • Suicide. As an example, in veterans of war, the suicide rate is much higher than in the general public. PTSD is thought to be a major risk factor for this.
  • Chronic disease. This is still being studied, but PTSD appears to increase the risk for heart disease, stomach and other intestinal disorders, and even muscle problems.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Negative effects on loved ones. Certainly, PTSD affects everyone around it, causing mental stress and possibly, for some people, physical injury (though PTSD’s potential role in violence is unclear).
Self-Help Treatment Options for PTSD

These are things you may try in addition to expert help or, in the worst-case scenario, when none is available.

1. Focus on priorities. With PTSD, thinking is altered, concentration may be difficult, and problems can appear overwhelming. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a quiet moment, and try to lay out your most immediate needs. Then plan a small step.

Many problems can’t possibly be solved all at once. But even they can be dealt with if you take one small step at a time. Find and focus on that first step, and try to put the rest out of your mind.

For example, say you’re really bad depressed, to the point of not sleeping, maybe even thinking of suicide. There could be all kinds of things you may blame for the depression (though often there’s no apparent reason). Maybe there are family problems. Maybe there are financial ones. But if the depression is so bad it’s affecting your judgment, the first thing you want to do is get help for the depression. Start by checking with your family doctor or local hospital for the most cost-effective alternatives.

2. Talk. Try to meet with others who have similar experiences. Talk over the problems and what solutions they’ve found. If you’re having trouble finding the first step to big problems, these people can likely help.

3. Avoid stinking thinking. I first heard this term from the late, great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, but it applies to PTSD. Some way, you need to learn to not obsess on negative thoughts. Even if a situation is dire, try to spend more time on solutions than just worrying about what bad might happen. There’s a lot more on this and other tricks here.

4. Pray, meditate, or both. I once heard someone say believing in and praying to God is a just crutch. I don’t think it “just” a crutch, but it sure can give you extra support.

5. Walk away. Stress can make a person angry. Anger can make us say or do things we regret. Recognize the feeling when it’s coming on. Take a break and try to calm down. It’s the old “count to 10” advice except it may take a little longer for most people with PTSD to calm down. If you don’t think you have the time, think of the time it will take to undo the damage from making a regrettable decision.

More tips on coping with stress can be found here.

Counseling and Medicine Treatment Options

Don’t neglect taking advantage of mainstream treatments that have been proven to help so many. The Mayo Clinic has a good breakdown of three of the types of therapy that are popular for PTSD: cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

And then there are many and varied prescription medications. One may help one person, a different type another. Yes, I know some people have had bad experiences with them. That’s true for any medicine, herb, etc. But many people have been helped quite a bit with coping if they can find the medicine right for them.

Now it’s your turn. If you or a loved one has gone through PTSD for any reason, please share your experience and tips so all readers of the post can benefit.