Have We Been Traumatized?

June is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and, given recent events in our country, this topic couldn’t be more timely.

After three months of news dominated by COVID-19, we were suddenly struck by horrific images of police officers snuffing out the life of George Floyd, followed by scenes of looting, arson, and vandalism.  Some of these events hit close to home, with violence occurring right here in the city in which I was born and raised.  I was flooded with feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, and disappointment.

Many people have had similar reactions to mine.  In fact, I would be concerned if someone were not disturbed by what has happened.   But, is it fair to say that we have been traumatized by the events about which we have read or seen on TV?

Trauma refers to events or experiences that are shocking and overwhelming, typically involving a major threat to physical, emotional, or psychological safety.  According to the National Center for PTSD, about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives.

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that exposure to traumatic events can occur through:

  • Direct experience
  • Witnessing the event(s) in person
  • Learning that a traumatic event occurred to a family member or close friend
  • Exposure to repeated or extreme aversive details of the traumatic event (but not through media, pictures, TV or movies, unless work-related)

While most people will emotionally bounce back from trauma and get on with their lives within about a month’s time, others will develop PTSD and have difficulty functioning with persistent symptoms such as:

  • Involuntary, intrusive memories, nightmares, or “flashbacks”
  • Avoidance of people, places, or activities that remind one of the traumatic event
  • Inability to feel positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction, or love
  • Irritable behavior or angry outbursts
  • Problems with concentration or sleep disturbance

People with PTSD may not only suffer functional impairment, they are at higher risk for developing other mental and physical health problems.  Yet recovery is possible.  Evidence-based psychotherapies can help people suffering with PTSD process their traumas and learn new coping strategies that can reduce their ongoing negative effects on current life.

If you have questions about this or other mental health concerns, please call me at (310) 383-1505.  Until then, be well!