Commentary: PTSD is often misunderstood
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the few mental illnesses that has entered our popular lexicon, yet many misunderstandings about it persist. PTSD is the emotional response we feel to unresolved trauma. That trauma may be instantaneous like a car crash, or long-term, such as a two-year pandemic. Either way, PTSD manifests in large part as us reliving our brain’s emotional reaction to the traumatic event every time we remember that event. And because the triggers that recall those memories can be almost anything, it is nearly impossible to know when someone living with PTSD will be drawn against their will back into the emotional midst of the trauma. They may be external sensory experiences such as sounds, sights, or smells, but they may also be internal sensations such as an elevated heart rate after a good workout, triggering the memory of a similar elevated heart rate after narrowly escaping a would-be attacker.
As a result, treatment centers on providing those who live with PTSD with coping mechanisms that allow them to recall past trauma without reliving it emotionally every time they do. And trauma is not only experienced by those who live through an event, but even by witnesses or by seeing ongoing coverage in the media. It can be felt weeks, months, or even years after the event itself.
Regardless of who is dealing with PTSD, what caused it, or when it appears, treatment is vital to recovery. As one of several types of anxiety disorders, PTSD is often entirely treatable by a licensed therapist, so please reach out if you or someone you know needs help.
Links to mental health resources are at MHANational.org.
Eric Litwiller is the director of development and communications at the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas.