Healing from PTSD
By: Dr. Katie Bowman, New London Counseling Center
Recent studies are supporting what we already believed to be true--Americans’ mental health is suffering as a result of concerns around COVID19 and the consequences of the response.
An article published in May 2020 (apa.org) states, “Research shows how a variety of factors related to the pandemic are undermining the nation's mental health. A new review found that quarantine has led to such psychological effects as posttraumatic stress symptoms, confusion and anger (Brooks et al., The Lancet, Vol. 395, No. 10227, 2020). The constant drumbeat of media reports is also detrimental, according to a study by Garfin and colleagues (Garfin et al., Health Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 5, 2020). In a review of multiple studies, the team found that repeated media exposure to community crisis can increase anxiety and stress. For some, home is not a place of refuge if they are trapped with their abusers. At the same time, many people are experiencing grief and loss of loved ones they could not say goodbye to before their deaths” (How Psychologists are helping America cope with the new normal).
There are a lot of factors that can cause acute stress or trauma and, unfortunately, our nation is facing many of them all at once. Folks who were already experiencing the effects of trauma may feel their symptoms have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and the environment created by the COVID19 response may also lead to new trauma for others. Medical professionals are also at a higher risk for trauma during this pandemic because of increased exposure to injury and fatality, high burnout, fear for their own safety, etc.
Some people that experience trauma may have minor, short-lived symptoms like moodiness, social withdrawal, agitation, difficulty sleeping, or trouble focusing. Some people recover naturally from a trauma within a few weeks or months, but others can have ongoing symptoms that affect their everyday lives and ability to function at work, school, home, or in relationships.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder typically develop as a result of someone experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event or situation such as abuse, combat, assault, natural disasters, or serious accidents. Some symptoms of PTSD include:
Reexperiencing the event: It is common for people with PTSD to have nightmares, flashbacks, or be easily reminded of the event. The memories of the trauma may seem so realistic that it feels like the traumatic event is happening again, right now. Some survivors of trauma can even go to great lengths to avoid things that remind them of the original trauma. For instance, a person may stop driving or using vehicles after a bad car accident; or a combat veteran may lock himself in the house during the week or July 4th to avoid the sound of fireworks. It is also common after a trauma to be easily startled and have difficulty concentrating and focusing.
Negative thoughts and feelings: Feelings like anger, sadness, and irritability are common after a trauma. It is really important to be aware of any thoughts about harming oneself or others. In that case, it is important to get immediate help by calling the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911.
Trauma and acute stress can be a complex thing to sort out on one’s own. It is important to have a social support network that provides encouragement. Mental health treatment is also an important part of the healing process. We know that getting help early is key for minimizing the long-term effects of trauma. So, if you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of trauma, seek help now.