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Top Causes of PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is not only a result of experiences on the battlefield. Learn more about the top causes of PTSD and how to get help if you or someone you love is suffering.

While most people think of battlefield trauma when they hear the term “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD), there are several top causes of PTSD that are not war-related. These four letters represent an entirely new way of living for people struggling with the debilitating mental and emotional effects of trauma. War and military experiences may be among the leading causes of PTSD, but other causes happen away from the battlefield. Keep reading to explore the primary reasons for PTSD and how to find healing.

What Are the Common Triggers of PTSD?

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the leading PTSD triggers include:

• Direct experience of a traumatic event
• Witnessing the traumatic event as it occurs to someone else
• Learning a traumatic event has happened to a loved one
• Personally experiencing excessive or repeated exposure to details about a traumatic event

PTSD occurs when these experiences lead to adverse changes in cognition and mood, causing social or occupational distress, with symptoms lasting longer than one month. Any person of any age or gender can develop PTSD. Nearly eight percent of Americans experience a form of PTSD at some point during their lives. This translates to four of every 100 men and ten of every 100 women undergo at least one traumatic experience during their lifetime that leads to PTSD.

PTSD is not a sign of mental weakness, and it can happen to anyone, whether military veterans or civilians. Any person who lives through, witnesses, or learns the details of a scary, dangerous, or shocking event is at risk. Factors such as previous traumatic events, getting injured during the event, and what takes place immediately following the event can make developing PTSD more likely. However, proper social and professional mental health support can make the disorder less likely or less severe.

What Are the Most Common Events that Cause PTSD?

Events resulting in PTSD tend to have several factors in common. The person experiencing or witnessing the trauma may feel as if they have no control over what is happening. The individual may also feel like their life or others’ lives are in danger. No matter what type of trauma occurred, when a traumatic event leads to long-lasting effects on one’s emotions, behavior, and cognition, this indicates PTSD.

Common events leading to PTSD are:

1) Severe Accidents

Whether the event is a natural disaster or car accident, the nature of these events lends to loss on a significant level. In a natural disaster such as tornadoes, wildfires, and hurricanes, people may lose their homes and loved ones or even their entire town. Their sense of security is shaken. A natural disaster brings with it intense feelings of chaos. Survivors may continue to feel fearful and experience an intense loss of control that impacts their everyday life.

Common initial responses after going through a natural disaster include:

• Fear
• Shock
• Confusion
• Difficulty making decisions
• Frantic searches for information
• Desperate desire to seek help for themselves and loved ones

When those responses are not met with appropriate help and support, the survivors may continue to experience these feelings on a deep level.

In the case of car accidents, survivors face similar experiences of loss and fear, which makes getting back out on the road or behind the wheel difficult, if not seemingly impossible. Yet, being a driver or passenger in a car is essential to daily life. When you are living with trauma, activities like working, traveling, shopping, and visiting family and friends can go from being normal daily activities to anxiety-producing events that cause sufferers to relive the trauma over and over.

Any severe accident—from natural disasters and car accidents to plane crashes—can cause the victim to suffer from flashbacks and re-traumatization at any time, even without an obvious trigger.

2) Physical, Mental/Emotional, or Sexual Abuse

Abuse causing PTSD includes rape, domestic violence, incest, emotional or mental abuse, or another violent crime. Once someone has experienced abuse at the hand of a perpetrator, they may continue to experience the feelings they had during the attack or attacks, even after they are out of the abusive situation. This is especially true if the abuse was ongoing or violent.

Victims of any type of abuse may have the following symptoms:

• Flashbacks
• Avoidance
• Re-traumatization from reliving the abuse
• Intrusive thoughts
• Attempts to numb the pain
• Intense feelings of distress
• Fear of retaliation from the perpetrator
• Guilt, humiliation, and shame

Abuse is an extreme violation. The resulting emotional and/or physical trauma may leave the victim unable to cope with daily life or engage in healthy relationships. Unfortunately, no reset button can completely erase abusive events, and professional counseling is necessary to help victims develop coping skills to move forward and work toward healing.

3) Work-Related Trauma

Mental health links closely to a person’s occupation, and work is at the center of most adults’ daily lives. High-stress work environments put psychological and emotional strain on employees. Experiencing repeated work-related trauma, whatever the job, is a strong indicator for PTSD. Work-related trauma can be just as real for first responders as it is for military personnel fighting in combat. Much like soldiers on the battlefield, first responders run toward situations where natural instincts tell an individual to escape or run away.

As a result, first responders witness countless traumatic events that can leave a mark on their emotional and mental well-being. Firefighters, police officers, and paramedics all have a high risk of developing symptoms of PTSD. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 30% of first responders develop PTSD, depression, and other behavioral health conditions.

The nature of these jobs is to put up a strong front and be the hero. For this reason, many first responders and military personnel do not seek the necessary support and professional help to deal with the trauma they have experienced, increasing the risk for substance abuse and suicide.

4) Childhood Trauma

Children are not immune from PTSD. Young people may experience abuse at home, violence from a stranger, or witness a traumatic event. Unfortunately, childhood trauma often goes undiagnosed and untreated. It can result in long-lasting feelings of fear, hurt, confusion, or distrust.

Anxiety disorders often manifest after witnessing a violent or frightening event. For example, a car accident, school shooting, or sudden death of a loved one may trigger a PTSD-like response. Abuse is another cause of childhood PTSD.

Child abuse is an umbrella term to describe mistreatment at the hands of a parent, caregiver, or another trusted adult. There are four main categories of child abuse:

• Emotional abuse
• Physical abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Neglect

Far too many child abuse victims never step forward to report it. Some are too young to comprehend what’s happening, and others feel embarrassed about the situation. Failure to seek treatment may result in PTSD or dissociative disorders. No one can erase painful memories. But counseling can provide coping mechanisms to help young victims live long, happy lives.

5) Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse occurs whenever a person experiences violence or other harmful behaviors at the hands of an intimate partner. Since it usually happens behind closed doors, outsiders are often unaware of the situation. Over time, incidents may escalate and become more extreme or dangerous.

There is a stigma surrounding intimate partner violence. Many victims blame themselves for their partner’s actions, and very few seek help. While it’s not commonly talked about, domestic abuse rates have continued to rise in recent years. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that new domestic violence cases occur every twenty minutes in the United States.

Physical violence is perhaps the most recognized form of domestic abuse, but it’s not the only type. It may fall into one of these categories:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Coercive control
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Online abuse

Domestic abuse victims often develop PTSD as a result. Even innocent onlookers, such as children, may struggle with mental illness after witnessing a traumatic incident. Unfortunately, domestic violence often turns into a repeated cycle. Victims may turn into abusers without meaning to do so. This is why counseling is crucial for all domestic abuse survivors.

6) Health Crisis

Receiving a chronic illness diagnosis is traumatic. Even an acute condition, such as a heart attack or stroke, can take its toll on a patient’s mental health. These life-changing medical events force people to face their mortality. Illness-induced PTSD frequently develops as a result. It affects up to 25% of patients, according to Psychology Today. Symptoms may include:

  • Repeated flashbacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory loss

Ironically, those already diagnosed with PTSD may develop chronic illnesses as a result. There is a correlation between PTSD and heart disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, digestive issues, and arthritis. It can also exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions.

Regardless of how or why a person develops illness-induced PTSD, treatment is a must. Counseling can help improve a patient’s outlook on life and reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.

7) Grief and Loss

Death is a natural part of life, but losing a loved one is still one of the hardest things anyone will ever experience. Everyone copes with grief differently. It’s common for survivors to struggle with depression or anxiety, but some may go on to develop PTSD. This is especially common following an unexpected, violent, or catastrophic death.

Grief-induced PTSD goes highly unnoticed. Most bystanders assume the survivor is simply going through the grieving process. The five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

There is no timeline to go through these stages, and most people learn how to cope with the situation over time. But if someone develops PTSD, they may appear to get stuck in the grieving process. Some may even seem to regress. Unlike the stages of grief, there may be no end in sight.

PTSD after a loss can have a profound effect on a survivor’s mental health. For instance, a person who witnessed their friend die in a car accident may suddenly experience crippling anxiety while driving. After a miscarriage or stillbirth, a mother may become overwhelmed by fear and guilt during a subsequent pregnancy. PTSD symptoms may even take a toll on a person’s physical health and send them spiraling into a deep depression.

Death is a traumatic event. Everyone experiences grief differently, but those with PTSD may never overcome the feelings of fear and hopelessness. Without help, these feelings can last a lifetime. Seeking counseling soon after going through a loved one’s sudden or violent death may help reduce the debilitating symptoms of PTSD.

Why Do Some Trauma Survivors Experience PTSD and Others Don’t?

Posttraumatic stress disorder didn’t become a household term until 1980. It was then that the American Psychiatric Association added to its list of mental illness diagnoses. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Before then, doctors just referred to it as “shell shock.”

Today, experts now agree that PTSD can affect anyone. It’s no longer just a military diagnosis. But why do some people experience it over seemingly benign situations, and others are fine after a traumatic event?

To put it bluntly, the severity of the incident doesn’t determine how a person will respond. This realization also explains why some soldiers return with PTSD and others don’t. It’s impossible to predict who will get PTSD, but there are some risk factors for developing it. They include:

• Being female
• Family history of mental illness
• Pre-existing medical conditions
• History of depression or anxiety
• Lack of a support system

But these risks are still just risks, and PTSD can affect anyone. Those who do deal with it shouldn’t overanalyze how they got there. Instead, they should seek counseling to cope with their symptoms and relearn how to live life to the fullest.

Compassionate Counseling for PTSD

Treating PTSD helps sufferers live healthy, fulfilled lives. Some medications, such as anti-depressants, may help with symptoms. But real relief comes from counseling and therapy. Being able to talk about the issue at hand with a non-judgmental, understanding individual can put PTSD patients on the road to recovery.

At New Life 360°, we use a holistic approach to treat a variety of mental disorders, including PTSD. Our counselors will help you find the right combination of private counseling, group sessions, and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you live your best life.

Ready to overcome this disorder once and for all? Schedule a consultation with our counseling team to take the first step towards PTSD recovery.