Anyone can be affected by post-traumatic stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not only for mental or physical health professionals to know about. It is essential that everyone become trauma-informed in order to prevent PTSD, to protect and seek help for themselves or loved ones, and to mitigate the ongoing effects that can build over time from a traumatic experience.
Increasing Prevalence of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder seems to be increasing in our society. In fact, there is a growing consensus that post-traumatic stress should be understood as a public health issue rather than seen as a mental health concern.
Trauma can happen at any stage of life and as a result of a wide range of experiences. The impact of an overwhelmingly threatening experience can be incredibly pervasive in a person’s life and indeed can continue to seep through physical, mental, relational and spiritual health throughout one’s lifespan.
Attention has recently increased on the pervasiveness of PTSD effects over a person’s lifetime. A landmark study of over 17,000 individuals found that 75% of them had experienced at least one potentially traumatic experience during their childhood years. These experiences included living with caregivers who were physically, mentally or sexually abusive; who were alcoholic or drug-addicted, affecting their ability to safely parent; or who were involved in domestic violence. This study focused on the long-term impacts on a person’s health compared to individuals who did not experience trauma in their childhood years. Key findings included:
• Up to 3 times the increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and heart disease.
• Up to 4.5 times the increased risk of depression and up to 12 times the increased risk of suicidality.
• Up to a 20-year decrease in overall life expectancy.
In addition to the symptoms that can arise directly from a traumatic experience, such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, negative self-image and disconnection from relationships, there are often layers of impacts that are not obviously related.
Because of this prevalence and pervasiveness of impact, we can all contribute to improving the lives of those living with post-traumatic stress.
Key ingredients to being trauma-informed
• Become aware.
Recognize how common traumatic stress is and that it can happen to absolutely anyone. We are all human and this is a normal human response to abnormal experiences.
• Be compassionate and patient.
When we understand the impact of trauma we can shift our reaction from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” when we encounter someone with the symptoms of trauma.
• Pay attention to your own resilience.
Because anyone is vulnerable to trauma, we need to take seriously our own recovery from highly stressful or overwhelming events. This involves paying attention to physical, mental and relational health.
• Reach out and talk about it.
For too long traumatic stress has triggered stigma and judgement in too many people. We need to understand that this affects all of us – and it takes all of us together to heal it. Help yourself or a loved one connect with a helping professional to begin the healing.
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