The MHS Journals

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The Triggers of PTSD

Apr 9, 2021

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs after a dangerous or painful event.
  • Most people who experience a traumatic event don’t develop PTSD, but those who do have significant challenges.
  • MHS DBT & Mental Health Services offers treatment services for those with PTSD triggers and symptoms.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. This mental health disorder occurs in people who have experienced a traumatic event or multiple events. PTSD is different from the body’s typical fight or flight response to something frightening or painful, either emotionally or physically. While almost everyone has some reaction to a traumatic event, the reaction is short-lived and goes away with time for most people. People with PTSD have difficulty moving out of that high-stress state, even when they are no longer in danger and the traumatic event is in the past.

Who Is at Risk for PTSD?

Anyone who experiences a traumatic event could develop PTSD symptoms. The condition occurs in adults, teens, and children. Soldiers, survivors of child abuse and domestic violence, and those who live through natural disasters are just a few of the categories of people living with PTSD. The trauma doesn’t even have to happen directly to the diagnosed person. Watching a loved one die or be harmed can lead to PTSD.

Most people who live through life events like these will not develop PTSD. No clear understanding exists of why one person does and another doesn’t experience the disorder. Genetics may play a part, as may neurobiology. However, researchers know that each person has a set of risk and resilience factors that make the individual more or less likely to develop PTSD and are more or less likely to succeed in recovery. Some of the risk factors are:

  • Experiencing multiple traumatic events
  • Being physically injured or watching someone else be hurt or killed
  • Traumatic events that occur in childhood
  • Feelings of terror and helplessness
  • The lack of a social support system after the event
  • A history of mental illness or addiction

Some of the resilience factors that may help protect against PTSD are:

  • A strong support system of friends and family
  • Willingness to attend a support group
  • Confidence in the ability to handle dangerous situations
  • Understanding positive coping strategies
  • The ability to react to fearful situations in a productive way

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of PTSD and a recovery plan require evaluation by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. To meet the clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms must:

  • Last for more than one month
  • Be unrelated to any other medical conditions or substance abuse
  • Reach a level of severity that interferes with daily life, work, school, or relationships
  • Include at least one re-experiencing symptom, such as flashbacks and nightmares
  • Include at least one avoidance symptom, such as staying away from specific places, events, or thoughts
  • Include at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, such as startling easier than usual or feeling constant tension
  • Include at least two cognition and mood symptoms, such as loss of interest in activities or negative feelings about the world

Some people struggle with PTSD triggers and symptoms for months, while others have chronic PTSD that seems never to go away. It’s important to remember that recovery is possible, even for those with severe cases.

What Are Some Symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD can develop after any dangerous or painful event, and the pain can be physical or emotional. The sudden loss of a loved one, for example, can lead to PTSD. Most people who develop symptoms of PTSD do so within three months or so of the event. However, some sufferers may not see signs until years later. PTSD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

What Are Some Treatments for PTSD?

People with PTSD triggers may benefit from medication and therapies. Just as the symptoms of the disorder vary by person, so do the effective treatments. Only qualified and experienced mental health professionals should treat PTSD, as it may require attempting various therapies to find a combination that works. Finding the right combination of drugs in the correct dosage may require careful experimentation.

Antidepressants are often used to treat PTSD. They may be effective in warding off the feelings of anger and sadness that often come with PTSD. Antidepressants may be used in conjunction with other medications for other symptoms. For example, sleep medications may help address nightmares and insomnia.

Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained professional to address mental health conditions. Sometimes the sessions are individual, and at other times, a group of people with similar issues may meet together. Therapy sessions as a treatment for PTSD usually last from six to 12 weeks but may take longer. The therapist may see value in bringing family and friends into the sessions.

Psychotherapy sessions come in different varieties. Some focus on the common PTSD triggers and symptoms, while others focus on other factors, such as social or job-related issues. While one patient may see success with a single method, others may need different therapies to see improvement. Effective strategies seek to educate the patient about the condition, teach the patient how to identify what triggers the symptoms, and manage the symptoms.

One of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for PTSD is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has decades of research to support its clinical effectiveness. At MHS DBT & Mental Health Services, our therapists use CBT to help patients examine their thoughts and feelings, their relationships with others, and how they navigate their daily lives. Patients come to understand how their thought patterns contribute to distress and behavior problems. They learn how to change those patterns.

The CBT intensive outpatient program at MHS DBT & Mental Health Services meets twice each week. We work closely with other providers, including other therapists, to meet the patient’s needs. All major insurance carriers cover the program.

Providers need to understand that, in addition to treating PTSD triggers and symptoms, some patients have multiple underlying issues to address as well. For example, domestic violence, drug use, and depression are a few concerns that may underlay the PTSD symptoms.

Where Can I Learn More?

MHS DBT & Mental Health Services offers a full range of mental health services for adults and adolescents suffering from many different mental health concerns. We provide evidence-based services, including cognitive therapy, in a supportive environment for everyone, regardless of culture, race, spirituality, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identification. Contact us today to see how we can help you on the road to recovery.

Featured Image: Pop Tika/Shutterstock