June is recognized as PTSD awareness month to shed light on a condition that commonly affects veterans and abuse survivors of all forms. However, these are not the only demographics that are susceptible to this condition.
“Almost everyone and anyone has at some point experienced some form of trauma that can in the long term be regarded as PTSD if it impairs their optimal functioning,” said Ezekiel Odonker, interim clinical director at Crossroads Behavioral Health.
Anyone who carries the weight of traumatic events in their day-to-day life without treatment can have their optimal functioning, behavior and responses become maladaptive.
“...But over a course of time, if it’s not treated through some of form or type of therapy or some psychological form of treatment, it really impairs their functioning in the way that their functioning becomes difficult to modify,” he said.
PTSD cases are not always typically coming from abuse survivors and returning soldiers.
“One misconception that stands out to me is that PTSD is experienced only by people who have endured a major type of trauma, like, excuse me for using the word, being sexually abused and experiencing some form of car accident and a veteran, having a tough childhood, yes all these things are a type of trauma, but within our own environment, there are little things, little relational things that we do that end up being PTSD on the individual in the long run,” Odonker said.
The timeframe for which the trauma can develop into PTSD depends on the context of the trauma and the sufferer’s resilience.
“At Crossroads, we see a lot of what we call, ‘relational trauma,’ that is trauma that we may not often see as a type of trauma in terms of how we engage and interact with people,” Odonker said. “Obviously we live in a society, in an environment where what is going on around us is significantly affecting who we are and we also do see a lot of individuals who have, excuse me to say, struggled with some form of sexual abuse and among others, those are the types of patients we see consistently.”
Other examples of PTSD include survivors of car accidents, fire outbreaks and grief. The criteria for PTSD varies much like the time it takes for the traumatized individual to develop the condition.
“Criteria for diagnosis varies depending on who is diagnosing them, but generally, we diagnose someone with some form of PTSD if it impairs their functioning to the point where it makes it difficult for them to live their lives day-in, day-out,” he said
Specific triggers for PTSD occur on a case-by-case basis, but there are broad categories for which sufferers respond to their triggers.
“General triggers with PTSD, I’d say, falls within two or three presentations, so one, the flight and then the fight, and then the third one, which is freeze,” Odonker said. “Most people who experience PTSD often run away when they are triggered by anything that they associate with the trauma that is making them experience PTSD. The second one is they will actually fight what is causing them PTSD and the third response is people actually freeze and do not know what to do when their PTSD is triggered.”
Common treatment for PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy, which is where the patient is challenged to overcome their maladaptive thoughts and behavior. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), Odonker says, was specifically designed to address PTSD among veterans. CPT, like CBT, guides the patient to conceptualize their trauma to reduce the pain it causes.
Crossroads mental health counselors are trained in EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. Under this treatment, the patient is directed to look at disturbing material in short doses while focusing on an external stimulus.
“This type of therapy has proven to be very effective in the treatment of PTSD,” Odonker said.
Odonker said the breeding ground for PTSD is most often an environment where an individual spends much of their life feeling unsafe.
“So for example, if you are in an environment where you are not accepted for who you are, it creates a lack of safety for you and if this continues over a course of time, it leads you to think in a particular way that affects other parts of your body that essentially becomes form of PTSD for you where you present will be no different than someone who has actually been in a war, has actually experienced what other people may call PTSD.”
For those who do not experience PTSD, Odonker said being sensitive to people who do is possible without dehumanizing them.
“If you approach someone and they act in a way that some people describe as weird or awkward, I would say respect them and give them that space.”