John Hildt was a 25-year-old young man when he fought and lost his arm in the Seven Days Battle in Virginia in 1862. It was his first time seeing combat. Effects of PTSD were hardly known about or considered in the time of the Civil War. It would take approximately 120 years before the condition would even have a name.
Importantly, Hildt had no history of mental illness before his service. Nevertheless, after that battle, he was never the same.
Once John Hildt’s physical wounds healed, he spent the rest of his life at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. Specifically, his diagnosis at the time was “acute mania.”
Now we know that John Hildt likely suffered the effects of PTSD. He was not alone. It is said that many soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and the wars that followed, suffered the effects of PTSD. We used terms like “shellshock” or “gas hysteria” after World War I. “Combat fatigue” or “old sergeant’s syndrome” soon followed. It wasn’t until after Vietnam that we finally had a name for it: post-traumatic stress disorder.
Finally, the effects of war on the mind got some scientific consideration. Researchers have made numerous discovers about the effects of PTSD and how to treat it. Symptoms of PTSD are not only recognized now, but survivors can live peaceful lives with treatment options.
What Is PTSD?
So, what exactly is PTSD?
Notably, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder as, “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”
There are common effects of PTSD that many people live with every day. These things impact not only the individual who is experiencing PTSD but also their family and loved ones. Fortunately, the stigma of this condition is disappearing. We are finally able to talk about it and share strategies to help those living with the effects of PTSD.
Most importantly, survivors and their families no longer have to suffer alone.
Listen to these survivors talk about how they knew they had PTSD:
Symptoms of PTSD
Four symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder are re-experiencing, avoidance, feeling worse about yourself or the world, and hyperarousal. The severity of each of these symptoms varies person to person.
Re-experiencing is just as it sounds and is the most typical symptom associated with PTSD. Often the person experiencing the effects of PTSD will have nightmares or will feel as though they are experiencing the traumatic event all over again.
In fact, “triggers” for these thoughts and feelings can be as “normal” as seeing a news report or hearing a loud sound. Even smells are triggers.
Unfortunately, things the individual once enjoyed can also be triggers for the person experiencing effects of PTSD.
With regards to triggers, U.S. Army Veteran Robert Tucker spoke of his experience in a video for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
As a means of self-protection, a person with PTSD will avoid situations that may act as triggers for the memories of their traumatic event. This avoidance can also drive episodes of staying extremely busy to avoid thinking or talking about it. By the same token, avoidance can also manifest in actions of isolation and avoiding meaningful contact with loved ones.
Unfortunately, this effect can also act as a hindrance to seeking out professional medical help for the condition.
Feeling worse about yourself or the world
Admittedly, this illness changes the worldview of the person experiencing effects of PTSD. After trauma, being open and honest may be challenging. The world can feel overly dangerous. Consequently, individuals may feel as though they cannot trust anyone, even close friends and family. Furthermore, there may be intense feelings of guilt and shame with this symptom.
Fearfulness and anger can be all-consuming, which leads us to the next symptom.
A person experiencing hyperarousal will often be anxious or “keyed up.” In other words, they may seem to have a short fuse and anger easily.
Anger is a response firmly rooted as a natural survival instinct. Accordingly, people who suffer the effects of PTSD often have an automatic anger response to stressful situations.
In a video shared by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Army Veteran Penny Anderson gives testimony with regards to her anger caused by the effects of PTSD.
10 Common Effects of PTSD and How to Treat Them
PTSD is different for each person who suffers it. There are, however, some side effects.
Feelings of anxiety and distrust can push an individual who is experiencing the effects of PTSD to isolate themselves away from friends and loved ones. Compounded with feelings of guilt and self-loathing, and this isolated place can be quite lonely, only further amplifying the impact of PTSD.
Above all, isolation can be dangerous for the individual living with PTSD. As a result, it can also be one of the more difficult effects of PTSD to work through for family and close friends.
2. Physical reactions
PTSD can cause purely physical responses within the body. For example, a person experiencing effects of PTSD may have trouble eating or sleeping. Additionally, they may experience a rapid heartbeat or breathing. Often, the person experiences excessive sweating. Survivors may suffer severe headaches and experience a lack of motivation to be physical or intimate. Furthermore, symptoms of other, non-related medical problems may worsen.
3. Stressed relationships
Due to the pure nature of our relationships, distrust, isolation, and irritability can strain even our most loving and close relations. Spouses and children may have a difficult time not taking the adverse actions of the survivor personally. The added depression can also contribute to the desire to isolate, only compounding the impact PTSD has on close relationships.
Anxiety and paranoia are common effects of PTSD. The fearfulness can become overwhelming for the person revisiting their traumatic event which can lead to further isolation, job loss, and the possibility of self-medicating through unhealthy means.
People often oversimplify depression as sadness. However, depression is much more than just being sad. General malaise and lack of motivation for even those things once enjoyed by the person experiencing it are far more common effects of depression. The waves of this darkness can ripple through most aspects of life and include feelings of detachment and a loss of intimacy. These reactions can have a devastating effect on jobs, marriages, and the daily life of the survivor.
6. Sleep problems
A person suffering the effects of PTSD may experience insomnia and nightmares. This torment prevents those with PTSD from getting adequate rest. The brain needs sleep to stay healthy. In a state of regular sleep deprivation, depression, impatience, and anxiety will get worse — making all of those things more amplified with PTSD.
7. Substance misuse and dependence
To numb the effects of PTSD, a person may start to self-medicate using substances like illicit drugs or alcohol. This numbing is a temporary form of escape, but it places even more strain on daily responsibilities and personal relationships. Alcoholism can exacerbate depression and suspicion of others.
8. Suicidal thoughts
Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, or the desire to escape the chronic pain of PTSD can send an individual suffering the effects of PTSD to a very dark place in their mind. They may experience thoughts of suicide. They may also make attempts at taking their own life.
Individuals who self-harm often say they do so to “feel something,” while others say it “vents” some of the pain. When a person has PTSD, they often feel withdrawn or detached. Sometimes they will lack all emotion or attempt to bottle it all inside, triggering the individual to practice self-harm.
As if all of the other symptoms aren’t enough to deal with, shame can have a drastic impact on a person dealing with the effects of PTSD. Whether it is a stigma held by the individual or their family, or the shame is present within their community and affecting things like finding work or housing, it can have a dramatic impact on the psyche.
The good news is there are many treatment options available for those who suffer the effects of PTSD. In fact, with treatment, trauma survivors can thrive in life.
There are several treatments recommended for PTSD. They often include talk therapy and medications like anti-depressants.
Talk therapy or “psychotherapy” is just as it sounds — time with a therapist talking through the trauma and learning ways to cope. The most recommended type of this therapy is called trauma-focused psychotherapies. This line of treatment teaches techniques to help process the experience and focuses on changing the negative thought cycle. There are three types of trauma-focused psychotherapies that have shown the best rates of success. They are:
This type of therapy primarily focuses on teaching the survivor how to regain control by confronting the negative feelings. During this course of treatment, the person who is experiencing the effects of PTSD will be talking about the trauma and working through the things they have been avoiding with the illness.
Cognitive processing therapy
Cognitive processing therapy works to reframe the negative thoughts regarding the trauma. During the talk therapy segment, the person living with PTSD opens up about the injury and negative feelings they are experiencing. The therapist may assign activities like short writing assignments.
Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing
With the focus on a moving object, light, or specific tone, the therapist will work to bring the trauma to the forefront of the mind. This exercise assists in processing and trying to make sense of traumatic events.
There is a myriad of other trauma-focused therapies currently recommended for PTSD; however, the three listed above present with the most substantial evidence of effectiveness.
Two different classes of antidepressants have been proven helpful in treating PTSD symptoms in a similar way they help anxiety and depression. SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs, which are serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, change the chemicals of the brain that affect feelings and mood.
It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” treatment for PTSD. It may take a few tries to find just the right therapist or mental health professional. Likewise, therapy types and medications may need to be tried and adjusted. One thing is for sure; a long-term treatment program has a proven track record of wellness for the person living with PTSD.
PTSD doesn’t only affect the person suffering from it — the entire family feels the impact. Families can support their loved one with PTSD by first learning as much as they can about the disorder. But, even more than just learning about PTSD, it is essential for families to understand there is an entire catalog of emotions that they may experience. Self-care is vitally important.
The good news is there are all kinds of things family members can do to support their loved one living with PTSD. Accompanying the family member to doctors appointments or asking if they can help with keeping track of medications or therapy sessions can be a great support. It’s also helpful for families to keep the door open for communication, but not be too pushy if their loved one isn’t ready to talk.
Some of the best support in a family comes from doing normal activities together. Have family dinners or watch favorite television programs. Exercise together, which is healthy for both the mind and body. Also, families are encouraged to cultivate relationships with other family members and close friends. An entire support system will prove to be an invaluable resource, especially during times of transition or additional stress.
With all of that said, some people living with PTSD may not be receptive to support. This resistance isn’t uncommon with the PTSD symptom of withdrawal. In those cases, experts recommend that space is given, but also always keep the offer of help on the table.
Recovery Is Possible with PTSD
People no longer have to suffer without help. John Hildt lost his life to PTSD. Fortunately, we recognize that the brain is an organ in the human body just like the heart or lungs or liver. There is no shame or stigma associated with seeking treatment for heart disease.
The effects of PSTD are life-changing, but they don’t have to be permanent. With proper treatment, people living with PTSD can find peace, happiness, and live fulfilling lives.
Is there anything in this article you have found particularly helpful or informative? Do you have anything to add? Please join the conversation in the comments section.