Daniel (name changed at patient request) served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he returned home physically well, his mind could not leave the battlefield behind. Daniel described himself as always being on high alert, with his mind constantly surveying his surroundings for potential threats. Even though intellectually he realized he was not in harm’s way at home, his mind could not relax from the heightened state of awareness.
Daniel’s state of hypervigilance is a common symptom of PTSD. Even in benign circumstances, individuals with hypervigilance from PTSD find themselves constantly scanning their surroundings, looking for signs of danger. This can involve repeatedly checking exits, monitoring the actions and behaviors of others, and being hypervigilant to any unusual objects or perceived threats.
This constant state of hypervigilance left Daniel feeling physically and emotionally drained. Hypervigilance requires a significant amount of energy which often leaves the individual exhausted and unable to focus on anything else. It can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability. The mental and emotional exhaustion took its toll, eventually causing Daniel to attempt suicide.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person and the intensity of the symptoms varies as well. A person struggling with PTSD who has fewer symptoms than someone else is not necessarily less impacted by the disorder.
In general, PTSD symptoms can be classified into four main categories:
People with PTSD often go to great lengths to avoid reminders of the traumatic event. They may avoid places, people, activities, or situations that could trigger traumatic memories or emotions. This avoidance behavior can interfere with daily life and relationships, making it difficult to hold down a job, maintain relationships with friends and family members, or engage in travel or social situations.
Individuals with PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts, memories, or nightmares related to the traumatic event. These intrusive thoughts may cause disturbing or embarrassing emotional and physiological reactions when triggered. Flashbacks, where individuals feel as if they are reliving the traumatic event, are a form of intrusive thoughts.
Negative Mood and Cognitive Symptoms
Individuals with PTSD may experience strong negative emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, anger, or sadness. These strong negative emotions can crowd out positive emotions and cause the person to feel depressed, hopeless, and isolated. People with PTSD may also have negative, distorted beliefs about themselves, others, or the world at large, and may experience cognitive issues such as memory loss or difficulty concentrating.
Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance
Hyperarousal refers to an increased state of physical and mental alertness. Individuals with PTSD may be constantly on edge, easily startled, or have a disproportionate response when startled. They may have trouble sleeping, experience irritability, or display outbursts of anger. Hypervigilance, where individuals are constantly on the lookout for potential threats, is also a common symptom of PTSD.
How Can You Tell If You Have PTSD?
PTSD should be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or licensed mental health professional. Individuals should not attempt to diagnose themselves or others with PTSD. However, recognizing the warning signs of PTSD is a critical step to seeking out the proper care.
PTSD can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Traumatic events are typically experiences that involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or physical or sexual violence. Intense experiences that trigger a “fight or flight” response can lead to PTSD, as can highly stressful but non-life-threatening situations, such as enduring a toxic workplace environment.
Common situations that lead to developing PTSD include: being in a combat situation, being the victim of physical or sexual assault, being in or witnessing a severe accident, natural disasters, having a medical crisis, the traumatic loss of a loved one, or being part of an act of mass violence, such as an active shooter situation. This list is not exhaustive and is meant only to serve as an example. Also, not everyone who experiences a traumatic situation will develop PTSD, so experiencing one of these traumatic events is not an automatic qualifier for PTSD.
What Are Common PTSD Triggers?
Triggers are external or internal stimuli that remind individuals of the traumatic event. These stimuli can elicit strong emotional and physiological responses. Triggers can come without warning, leaving the person suffering from PTSD to behave in erratic and socially inappropriate ways and adding to their sense of loss of control.
Common PTSD triggers include: specific smells, sounds, sights, or even tactile sensations associated with the traumatic event; people or places that remind the person of the traumatic event (seeing someone who looks like the perpetrator of a traumatic event, for example); media depictions of similar events; anniversaries or significant dates associated with the traumatic event. A person dealing with PTSD who is exposed to a trigger may suddenly react in unpredictable ways (hitting the ground when fireworks go off, for example), become moody and irritable, seek to withdraw, or exhibit other typical PTSD coping mechanisms. (Source)
Recognizing these triggers and reactions in yourself, a friend, or a loved one is a good indicator it is time to seek out a psychiatrist for a thorough examination and diagnosis.
How Is PTSD Treated?
PTSD can be treated with therapy, medication, ketamine, and TMS. Therapy can help the brain to process the traumatic event, reducing its ability to cause negative emotions and behaviors. A psychiatrist may also prescribe medication, such as SSRIs, which help reduce the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms.
TMS in particular should be considered for treatment of PTSD as it works directly on the brain, helping the brain to form new, healthy neural pathways. For military personnel and veterans, TMS is a preferred treatment option as it is covered by Tricare for treatment of PTSD.
Daniel, the veteran suffering from PTSD, was treated with TMS after his suicide attempt. He described the treatment as life-changing and life-saving. His hypervigilance disappeared almost entirely, his cheerful attitude returned, and he felt like himself again. Although this is only one patient story, there are many patients like Daniel who have been treated with TMS for PTSD and achieved impressive recoveries.
PTSD Treatment in Utah
If you are living in Utah and believe you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD, you can find help at Ampelis Health. Ampelis Health offers a variety of treatment options for PTSD, including therapy, medication, ketamine, and TMS. You will receive an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan to help you become yourself again.
Take the first step and call Ampelis Health today at 435-776-5909 to schedule an appointment.