On television and in the movies, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is usually brought up in the context of war; a soldier returns home from active duty haunted by flashbacks, nightmares and repetitive, stressful thoughts about a firefight or an explosion or some other wartime trauma. But the truth is that PTSD impacts many different types of people, not just those who have seen combat.
“I would say that about 80 percent of people I see have PTSD, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” says Bonnie Strand, who currently works as a grief counselor at Evergreen Hospice in Markham, Ontario.
PTSD can manifest itself in different ways, but anxiety, extreme panic ,and uncontrollable thoughts are some of the key indicators.
“When you’re in that high PTSD place it’s very hard to calm down, but with counseling and repeating your story, you’re able to take a breath and manage it,” says Strand.
Essentially, trauma of any sort can cause PTSD, and, like other disorders, it exists on a spectrum, meaning some cases will be more severe than others. Here, Strand shares eight life events that the average person may not realize can cause PTSD.
Your kid becoming sick
“A child getting very ill and having to take them to the hospital can put a parent–a mother especially–into trauma,” says Strand. It’s the fear of the unknown combined with fierce parental instincts to protect your young. It’s scary stuff.
“When a child finds out they are adopted it could cause PTSD because the child may wonder why his/her parents couldn’t love them,” say Strand. And it can affect adults who were adopted and only found out later in life, too. “It’s the same questions [that a child would have], but also the fact that they were not told the truth when they were younger,” says Strand.
Death of a loved one
Losing a primary or secondary person in ones life (think spouse, parent, child, sibling) is undoubtedly traumatic, even more so when that person’s death is sudden and unnatural, as is the case with suicide. In one study, 36% of participants whose partners had committed suicide developed PTSD.
Discovering that a partner has been having an affair
Being rejected can also cause trauma. “The brain gets stuck because of something that is traumatizing to the person,” says Strand, so some people will end up repeating the images of their partner in bed with another, over and over, or obsessively read and reread secret salacious communications between the cheaters.
Being abused as a child, whether it’s sexually, physically or mentally
Childhood trauma can often go undocumented, as kids have a tough time understanding that what is happening to them isn’t normal. In some cases, Strand says, adults can carry childhood traumas into their present-day lives without even realizing it; they simply don’t remember that a traumatic event ever took place.
Being abused as a adult, whether it’s sexually, physically or mentally
Abuse of all kinds in adulthood can also result in PTSD. Sometimes, it’s a snowball effect. “If the trauma happens after, say, two or three minor traumas, that could tip the balance in one’s brain chemistry,” says Strand. “It’s still a bit of a mystery why some people are more affected by PTSD.”
Being involved in a robbery or home invasion
Remember when Kim Kardashian was bound and robbed at gunpoint at her Paris apartment? Months after the traumatic event, Kim opened up on an episode of her reality show, explaining that she was suffering with anxiety and stress from the ordeal. And it’s no surprise. Like anyone who has been involved in a robbery, having your life threatened in a space that was once considered safe can be a common trigger for PTSD.
Being involved in an accident, like a car crash
“When you’re in, or even almost in, an accident, chemicals get sent to the brain [that tell you] to feel horrible–and that’s to save you,” says Strand. So if you’re involved in an accident, like a car crash or train derailment, the brain’s natural response is to set the body’s fear alert on high.
If you think you or a loved one may have post-traumatic stress disorder, the first step is to acknowledge that it exists, and then find proper help from a professional.
“You have to be very gentle with patients when they have PTSD because they might be in a place where they can’t see positive and can’t make changes right away,” says Strand. But there’s hope for everyone, and Strand says that 90 percent of her patients feel more like their former selves within a year of committed weekly or biweekly talk therapy, exercise and lifestyle changes.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.