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PTSD symptoms can be treated, psychologist says

Dickinson Press - 1/2/2020

Jan. 2--You've just experienced a life-threatening traumatic event.

You may experience trouble sleeping, negative feelings, avoidance and/or reliving the event. These are symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Samantha Tupy, clinical psychologist with Veterans Affairs in Fargo, tells you what to expect.

"No matter who you are, if you experience a traumatic event you're going to have what we call reliving of it after the fact, for hours after up to a couple months after," she said. "It'll kind of pop into your head throughout the day without your permission, so to speak. You may not be actively trying to think about the memory. It's just kind of coming to you on its own."

The National Center for PTSD states that reliving the event could also include having nightmares. The reliving of the event may be caused by a trigger -- something you see, hear or smell that reminds you of the event. For a combat veteran, this might be news coverage of a war, fireworks, or a car backfiring.

You might avoid thinking of the event or practice behavioral avoidance.

"Let's say it's a car accident that caused this. You might avoid the intersection that car accident occurred at," Tupy said. "You might avoid driving. You might avoid wearing your seat belt or allowing anyone else to drive you, so just really anything that might remind you or trigger you, as we call it."

The National Center for PTSD lists other examples including avoiding crowds because they feel dangerous, avoiding new coverage of a war.

You might have negative changes in the way you feel about yourself or others. You may find it hard to trust people and may think the world is dangerous.

"The last one that usually pops up that's the really big symptom is feeling kind of keyed up or anxious, that's like always being alert or jittery," Tupy said. "When you maybe try to go to bed or relax, you physically are incapable of relaxing."

The National Center for PTSD refers to this as hyperarousal and can manifest itself as trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating and wanting to have your back to a wall in a restaurant.

These symptoms are normal, Tupy said, and for many people, they'll go away on their own.

"One of the major things to recognize ... is anyone experiences a traumatic event, they'll experience these symptoms for a couple of months then they generally start to fall away on their own," she said. "However, if it's been about three months or so, it's time to reach out and get some help."

If the symptoms have lasted for a few months, it's likely that they will not resolve on their own, Tupy said, and will instead result in post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They're going to just remain kind of constant, and then you tend to create a lifestyle around your symptoms, and that's what we see in more chronic PTSD where people are like, 'This is just how I am,' but really it's the symptoms that are driving their behaviors," she said.

For those whose symptoms do not fade, Tupy suggests they seek professional help through their local VA.

"Some people believe that you can totally do away with the disorder. You get treatment and then you no longer have PTSD. Other people believe that you get treatment and you turn down the symptoms and then sometimes as you go about your life, some of those symptoms might get louder again," she said.

New stressors in your life could trigger those PTSD symptoms again, Tupy said.

"If you get treatment early on and those symptoms do get turned up later by a life stressor -- good or bad -- you'll have the skills to be like 'Oh okay. I know what's happening right now, and I know what I need to do about it to turn it back down,'" she said.

For those in crisis, she recommends calling the veteran's crisis line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.

"You do not have to be suicidal to call," Tupy said. "That is also what it's there for, if you're feeling suicidal, but it's also there for if you're just having a really hard day and need to talk to someone, or if you're in more of an emotional crisis, you're just feeling down and don't want to be alone, that's why that's there."

For more information about PTSD and its effects, Tupy suggests visiting ptsd.va.gov.

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