PTSD and the Difference Between Big ‘T’ and Little ‘t’ Traumas

Man silhouetted in front of fire

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder. From the early designation of “shell shock” for military veterans to transforming the label of “hysteric” to PTSD for survivors of rape, we know that trauma can have lasting physical and emotional effects on those who experience it.

However, often we default to discussing only soldiers and victims of sexual violence when we talk about PTSD. These experiences are certainly among the leading causes of the mental illness, yet they aren’t the only type of trauma that result in PTSD. Let’s expand on how trauma of any kind changes us and how that impacts the way we think about PTSD.

Continue reading PTSD and the Difference Between Big ‘T’ and Little ‘t’ Traumas

Does the Internet Make PTSD Worse?

Oh, the internet. Home of cute cat videos, sarcastic memes that make us cackle, social media to engage with anyone anywhere, and lightning-fast news with real-time live video. What could go wrong?

For better or worse, the internet has largely become how we consume and share information and interact with others from every corner of the world. Because of its vast and complex nature, it’s hard to determine just how the internet impacts those who use it on a daily basis. But what about for those of us who live with post-traumatic stress disorder? Does the internet make PTSD worse?

Continue reading Does the Internet Make PTSD Worse?

Complex PTSD: How a New Diagnosis Differs From Standard PTSD

Woman on stand with grey background

Your palms sweat. Your heart races. You don’t remember where you are — are you here, now, or back in another, scarier time?

This is a flashback. And for many people living with PTSD, it’s a common experience. Faced with a reminder of a traumatic event, someone with PTSD can be jerked back into the mental, emotional and even physical experience of trauma.

But what happens when that trauma is ongoing, or a prolonged series of events? This is where a Complex PTSD diagnosis bridges an important behavioral health gap.

Continue reading Complex PTSD: How a New Diagnosis Differs From Standard PTSD

Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

woman giving birth doctor and nurse treating her

Giving birth can be one of the biggest events in a person’s life, and it’s a loaded experience. Everyone has expectations about what a “good birth” looks like, but birth doesn’t always go as planned. For some parents feelings of disappointment, fear, or stress about the events surrounding the birth of a beloved child can transition into something more serious: birth trauma, also known as perinatal PTSD. This condition is a lot more common than you might think.

Our expanding understanding of psychological trauma has highlighted the fact that PTSD is an issue much broader than the emotional aftermath of experiencing combat. Any intense traumatic experience can have psychological ramifications, whether someone has a history of mental health conditions or not, and no matter how well-prepared someone might be. Birth, accompanied with intense physical and emotional experiences, is no exception. But the myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth can make people uncomfortable when it comes to speaking out, or uncertain about whether what they’re experiencing is normal. Continue reading Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

How Being in the Military Changed My Mind Forever

soldier in uniform with US flag patch

During my first Christmas in Iraq, we were hit by a roadside bomb. It could have been worse. Luckily, no one died in this explosion. Back at the firebase, we were allowed a call on the satellite phone. Some people freely told their parents or loved ones about what had happened. I felt that unbecoming of an infantryman—why scare people back home?—instead I settled on my favorite topic: the weather. Oh stoic me.

Half a year later I was touring Europe with a friend of mine from the same platoon. I wouldn’t say we had seen all that much action, yet there was an anger that was evident in both of us. A hundred and fifty miles per hour seemed too slow. We threw our wrath at anyone in our way. Verbal wrath, but troublesome nonetheless. Whatever I was experiencing I merely concealed by being a stranger in a strange land: the prattle of a foreign language and people going about their way provided a perfect cocoon for me. Continue reading How Being in the Military Changed My Mind Forever

Mental Health Diary: PTSD

woman journaling on table with coffee

Talkspace’s Mental Health Diary series provides an intimate, anonymous week-long look inside the lives of those struggling with mental illness. Our first diary entry is from a Digital Content Producer and Journalist coping with the lingering effects of sexual abuse. Female // 30s // Los Angeles.

Diagnosis: PTSD; Secondary: borderline personality disorder, OCD, depression
Occupation: Digital Content Producer; Journalist
Location: Los Angeles
Medication: Luvox, Abilify, (Prozac); Xanax as needed
Therapy: Two 90-minute in-person therapy sessions a week; Talkspace therapist; Bi-weekly trauma group therapy; Weekly DBT skills group
Health Insurance: Cigna; (Blue Shield)

DAY 1

7:45 a.m.
I get out of bed on the fifth alarm and throw on clothing to get out the door in 10 minutes or less to make it to work on time. Basic self-care stuff baffles me, so I do the best I can in jeans and some rumpled shirt that really should be washed. Continue reading Mental Health Diary: PTSD

The Stories PTSD Tells Me

woman on floor next to shower white towel

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others.

Images flash back through my mind.

I am locked in a dark office in the corner of another locked room during a free class period of the high school day. I’m balanced precariously on the edge of a desk with my legs wrapped around his body, the bulge in his pants gyrating in the crook between my legs. My mind wanders and eventually lands on my aching muscles, my trembling arms and legs. They’re not going to hold much longer.

He is standing fully clothed, his usual beat-up brown loafers planted on the floor. I smell his Cheer-washed dress shirt and Dial soap-scrubbed skin. His Docker’s are hemmed a couple inches too short. He is 43. I am 17. Those loafers rise and fall off the floor with every thrust of his crotch into me, the friction of fabric on fabric a barely noticeable sensation. All my attention focuses on my awkward position on this desk — my muscles ache and burn in protest.

He grinds away, oblivious in ecstasy, his face turned upwards, making those moaning sounds. Finally, my body overrides my mental willpower to stay upright and my muscles collapse. I start to fall off the desk, headed toward the floor, before he catches me and props me back on the desk.

Other memories follow. Continue reading The Stories PTSD Tells Me

PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder: A Gendered Divide in Diagnosis?

white male solider and black woman split image

As with many types of traumatic or mental disorders, certain criteria must be met to receive a diagnosis. Following the structure of these guidelines is meant to allow for an accurate and unbiased determination. However, when it comes to the differentiation between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the question of whether men and women are diagnosed differently has been raised.

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 1.6% to 5.9% of adults in the U.S. have BPD. And of those actually diagnosed, 75% were women, despite the fact that men are just as likely to display symptoms. A non-profit organization, PTSD United, found that roughly 8% of Americans have PTSD. Additionally, 1 out of 9 females in the U.S. have PTSD, while the rate for males is about half that. These statistics alone call for us to question whether there is a divide in diagnosis based on gender. Before we can safely address the issue of gender, though, it’s important to look at the symptoms and characteristics that are used to diagnose both Borderline Personality Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For a mental health professional to diagnose a patient with BPD, they must display at least 5 of the qualifying symptoms. These include unstable relationships altering between idealization and devaluation, frantic efforts to avoid social abandonment, a distorted self-image that affects emotional stability, impulsive behaviors, suicidal and self-harming behavior, periods of depression, irritability, or anxiety that last between a few hours to a few days, chronic boredom or feelings of emptiness, uncontrollable anger, and dissociative feelings. Most psychological research indicates the causes are genetic, environmental (from the experience of a traumatic event), neurological, or a combination of the three. Continue reading PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder: A Gendered Divide in Diagnosis?

The History of PTSD

soldier holding another in his arms

June is PTSD Awareness Month. To participate in raising awareness and challenging the stigma of mental illness, we are publishing several pieces that show what it means to live with PTSD.

Soldier’s heart. Shell shock. Combat exhaustion. Traumatic neurosis. Gross stress disorder. Combat fatigue. Rape trauma syndrome. Post Vietnam syndrome. It’s gone by many names, but post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been cataloged for thousands of years. In fact, descriptions of PTSD can be traced to ancient texts such as The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Soldiers from nearly every war, accident victims, and survivors of natural disasters, rape, and child abuse have exhibited the classic signs of PTSD, including reliving the event, avoidance, negative beliefs, and hyperarousal.

To best tell PTSD’s story, World Wars I and II — and particularly the Vietnam War and Women’s Movement in the 1970s — best capture the evolution of the diagnosis, treatment, and popular perception of what is now code 309.81 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: PTSD. Continue reading The History of PTSD

What Happens in Your Brain During a PTSD Flashback?

Woman looking downtrodden

When American soldiers came home from the Vietnam War, many found it hard to return to normal life. They were haunted by nightmares; unable to shake the images of explosions and death from their minds, even while awake. They struggled with feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger; confused about how to to make sense of what they had witnessed. In 1980, the afflictions of these soldiers — along with research on the psychological impact of trauma on Holocaust survivors, rape victims, and others — led the American Psychiatric Association to define a new condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the DSM.

Although people often associate PTSD with veterans affected by the horrors of war, the condition can develop in anyone who has experienced a dangerous, shocking, or life-threatening event such as rape, childhood abuse, or a serious accident. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD will affect 6.8% of U.S. adults in their lifetime. The condition is defined by symptoms like panic attacks, depression, and insomnia, but one of the most characteristic and debilitating symptoms of PTSD is something called “flashbacks.” Continue reading What Happens in Your Brain During a PTSD Flashback?