Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be caused by a constellation of circumstances — some affecting millions of folks, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks; others intensely personal, such as a sexual assault, bullying or physical trauma from a sports-related injury or car accident.
It’s commonly found in victims of gun violence, combat veterans and first responders. In short, PTSD can happen to anyone.
Researchers at the National Center for PTSD estimate that seven or eight of every 100 Americans will have PTSD at some point in their life, and 8 million adults will have PTSD during any given year.
Among veterans, the numbers are much higher: We know that 11 to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq developed PTSD; in Vietnam the rate hit about 30 percent. Today we have more than 1.3 million active servicemen and servicewomen in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines with Special Operations forces deployed in more than 145 countries, according to The Nation and Stars and Stripes.
While 31 service members died in actions overseas in the first 11 months of 2017, according to Defense Department data, 20 vets a day commit suicide — often a result of untreated PTSD.
The latest cause of PTSD that we are hearing about is from taking children away from their parents at U.S. border crossings. The reason many of these families are here is because they’re fleeing extreme violence in Central American countries like San Salvador and Honduras.
Now there’s a double trauma for each child to process, and there’s a good chance that the resulting PTSD may accompany them for years and result in many behavioral problems, ranging from depression, anxiety and drug abuse to rage and violence.
No matter the trigger, symptoms of PTSD may include sleep problems, becoming quick to anger and other intense emotional outbreaks, flashbacks, recurring upsetting memories and thoughts of suicide.
Treatment with a trained therapist will help you open up about your experience and also may include instruction in meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi and acupuncture.
A good therapist will use some newer therapies, including virtual-reality exposure and wise use of medications to temporarily treat anxiety and depression. If you cannot get to a therapy session in person, explore telemedicine (the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing a lot of this) and internet-delivered cognitive-behavioral treatment.
A new medical treatment for PTSD that promises to be quite effective is on the horizon. The results of a phase two clinical trial are in, and it seems that using MDMA (otherwise known as Molly and ecstasy) with adjunctive psychotherapy in a controlled setting may be somewhat effective and well-tolerated in reducing PTSD symptoms in veterans and first responders. A 12-month follow-up found sustaining benefits. More information will become available in the coming months.
But for now, if you’re suffering the effects of PTSD, see a therapist. If someone you know has PTSD, offer support and understanding. Check out online resources at ptsd.va.gov and Sharecare at bit.ly/2ygmibk.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.