Trauma Effects Don’t Just Quit

I am sure you have heard the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is so easily thrown around in the media, television shows and movies. It is hard with all this information in our culture about PTSD to really know what is fact and what is myth.

It is helpful to know what PTSD really is before going any further. PTSD is a group of symptoms mental and physical that combine together due to a trauma experience. This experience has to be of such a high level that the individual felt that he/she was going to die. This complicates the diagnosis since my level of feeling threatened enough to feel like I am going to die is different than yours.

Trauma can be considered “little t” traumas and then “Big T” trauma. Big T traumas are those that usually have an external cause. These are serious vehicular accidents, sexual assault, military service. “Little t” traumas are those that are more personal, not life threatening traumas; examples of these are : braking a bone, verbal abuse, harassment.
There is a third category of how you can acquire PTSD. Those would be secondary traumatic events. These are experiences a person has from watching a trauma of someone else; this would include 9/11, watching someone die, hearing a person describe their trauma. 9/11 is a special category since never before had so many people witnessed a loss of life and destruction in history. Across the world we watched and felt a fear of impending doom. Many people within weeks were seeing their doctor for feeling that had never occurred to him/her.

Trauma can be divided into two diagnoses depending on how much time has passed since the traumatic incident. If your experience happened in less than 30 days before and you are showing symptoms of the trauma you would be diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder. If the incident was over 30 days before then your diagnosis would fall into the category of Post Traumatic Disorder. The symptoms of both of these disorders is the same.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has many symptoms. You can think of all of the symptoms of PTSD in a big pot. Not every person has the same PTSD response to trauma. It is a wide range of symptoms.

Mental & Emotional Symptoms Include:

• Intrusive thoughts
• Nightmares
• Flashbacks
• Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
• Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
• Negative affect
• Trauma-related reminders
• Inability to recall key features of the trauma
• Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
• Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
• Decreased interest in activities
• Feeling isolated
• Difficulty experiencing positive affect
• Difficulty concentrating

Physical Symptoms Include:

• Irritability or aggression
• Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
• Risky or destructive behavior
• Hyper vigilance
• Heightened startle reaction
• Difficulty sleeping

You don’t need to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with PTSD. There are a few requirements as these symptoms are broken into categories. Each of these symptoms can be effecting a person from “mild” to severe. I put mild in “ “ because any of these symptoms experienced in its mild form can significantly effect a person’s life.

Treatment Options

There is treatment for PTSD. In the past there weren’t too many ways to heal from PTSD.

First, you need to see a doctor to get properly diagnosed. This can be your general practioner or a psychiatrist. I encourage using a psychiatrist since a psychiatrist has had special training to identify this disorder among others. Once diagnosed then you can create a treatment plan. A doctor can prescribe medication to help with the symptoms, but medication will not help heal PTSD. Some form of therapy is necessary. Talk therapy can help along with giving you coping skills. You can meet with someone who is non-judgmental can be extremely freeing.

The best therapy for trauma experiences is EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The way traumas are retained in your brain is very different from regular memories. EMDR is able to resolve PTSD by addressing each issue related to your trauma. There is little talking involved and the counselor will not explore feeling in the traditional way. Often old memories that are somehow connected to the current trauma can also come up and be resolved.

The best thing you can do is to explore what options work for you. If you try one option and it doesn’t work, keep exploring. Each person heals in his/her own way. If you are using medication and do not feel that it is helping you then call your doctor or psychiatrist. Don’t’ give up. There is help available to you.

Austin Therapist

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S

H.A.L.T. and Think Simple

Irritable? Can’t focus? Yelling? Starting to melt down? They aren’t listening? I don’t know what to do?!? Maybe we need to…

When stressed we have a tendency to overthink things and make them complicated. Sometimes it’s best to H.A.L.T. and think simple.  Ask these questions about yourself and your kiddo…

H – Hungry

When was the last time I had something to eat? Was it full of sugar? Am I hungry? 

Solution: Eat a snack. Protein if you can (cheese, nuts, avocado).

A – Angry

Did a kid say something mean to my child at lunch? Did someone cut me off in traffic?

Solution: Reflect. Take a moment. Listen to a fun song. Make a joke. Meditate.

L – Lonely

Does she need a hug? To hear “I love you”? To do an activity together? Some friend time? 

Solution: Spend time around someone. Ask for help. Give a hug. Play a game.

T – Tired

Did he wake up through the night? Have nightmares? Have a busy day? Play too long? 

Solution: Power nap. Stand up. Play Simon says with stretches. Drink water.

T – Thirsty

When was the last time I drank any water? Have I had too much sugar/caffeine? 

Solution: Drink water or a beverage low in sugars (even artificial) and no caffeine.

These all relate to your BASIC NEEDS – your foundation. If your basic needs aren’t met, you can’t expect yourself, or a kiddo, to make good choices and not be upset. It’s okay to start small. Sometimes, that is all we can manage at the time- and that’s okay. Print this and stick it in your car visor or wallet if you need to. Doesn’t matter if it sounds silly – if it works.

Laura Strohm, LMSW

By: Laura Strohm, LMSW
Supervised by Robyn Gobbel, LCSW

Talking about Suicide: Truths and Tips for Prevention

Suicide has been much-discussed in 2017, between the controversy of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and the trial and conviction of Michelle Carter, who encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself.  Despite the frequent conversation in the public media, there’s still a lot that many of us don’t understand about this topic.  

An important first step toward preventing a public health issue like suicide is knowing that there are many misconceptions about it. Look at these statements below, and see if you’re able to discern fact from fiction:

1. People who want to commit suicide are crazy or mentally ill.

Answer: False. People who are considering suicide are certainly experiencing distress and pain, but these are not necessarily signs of mental illness.

2. If someone wants to die, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Answer: False. Acute risk is usually time-limited. If you can help the person survive the immediate crisis, you will have gone a long way toward promoting a positive outcome.

3. Even kids can contemplate death by suicide.

Answer: True. Even young children can become severely unhappy and talk of wanting to die. 

4. If I ask someone whether he or she is thinking about suicide, it might “push” the person to do it.

Answer:  False. Asking someone if they feel suicidal does not plant thoughts anymore than asking them how their head feels might give them a headache. Most people feel relieved when someone asks about their feelings and intentions. 

5. There are almost always warning signs before a person dies by suicide.

Answer: True. Most people communicate their intent before attempting suicide, though these clues may be nonverbal and indirect. 

6. People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention. They won’t actually do it.

Answer: False. Sometimes, people who are considering suicide may appear ambivalent about the decision because they are torn between wanting to live and wanting to die. This does not mean that they’re not serious, or just saying for it attention. ALWAYS believe someone who is contemplating suicide.  

The next step toward prevention is understanding how to helpfully respond to a person who is considering suicide. Even the most compassionate among us can feel terrified by the thought of having this conversation, and that is understandable. However, it’s important to be able to temporarily set aside your own feelings of fear, shock, and concern, so that you can calmly and rationally aid the person to safety.

Here are some things you can say or do to provide support for a person who is thinking about ending his or her life:

  • Be Direct. 

    Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide and your concerns for the person’s well-being. At times, people may “joke” about not wanting to live, because it feels like the safest and most comfortable way for them to communicate their pain. Ask them straight-up if they’re thinking about hurting themselves, and take their answer seriously.

  • Be Willing to Listen.

     Allow the person to talk about their feelings and problems at their own pace. Give them your full attention. Take a deep breath, and try to stay calm and collected. 

  • Be Non-Judgmental.

    Validate the person’s feelings and show understanding and support. Don’t minimize their problems with phrases like, “that’s not worth killing yourself for.” And please, don’t attempt to debate with them about whether suicide is right or wrong, or lecture them about the sanctity of life.

  • Be Hopeful.

    Remind the person that alternatives and support are available, but don’t promise that any one idea will turn things around for them right away. 

  • Be Involved. 

    If you believe the person is in immediate danger, please take them to the nearest emergency room, or call 911. Once the urgent crisis has passed, encourage the person to continue self-care, turn to supportive loved ones, and seek further help by finding a mental health professional in the area. Don’t just suggest it – ensure that they do it. Check in on them frequently.

  • Be Kind to Yourself.

    Once you’ve ensured the person’s safety, let yourself feel everything you set aside earlier. It’s understandable to feel sad and scared, to be frustrated, or to cry. Turn to your own sources of support, be they loved ones or professionals. Do things that bring you some comfort.

For more information or support, you can contact the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit the National Suicide Prevention website. Both resources are appropriate for those looking to help either themselves or someone else.

By: Amanda Robinson, LPC, RPT

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