PTSD: Extreme emotional trauma

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first brought to public awareness as it relates to military veterans who witnessed horrifying harm in war actions.

But it can happen to anyone after exposure to a traumatic event such as a car, plane or train wreck, mugging, rape, torture, child abuse and other happenings that involve the threat of injury or death. PTSD invokes the fight-or-flight reflex everyone uses for self-defense. But in PTSD, when the danger is over, the terror continues.

“Carla” and her young son were driving home one evening. The car slid on black ice. She lost control of the vehicle on a curve and the car rolled into a farmer’s field. Her son was held in place by a seatbelt, and although he was injured, he did recover. But every time similar weather conditions indicate the possibility of black ice and slippery roads, Carla froze and felt anxiety come on, setting off a panic attack. She couldn’t bring herself to leave the house under that kind of weather conditions.

“I live in Ohio,” she said. “Snow and ice are typical during an Ohio winter. I have to be able to drive on ice and snow!”

She struggles with the mental pictures of the crash that could have claimed her child’s life. Those images were as clear as the day the crash occurred.

The Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities promotes better understanding of the impacts of trauma.

“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-beingLeft unaddressed traumatic experiences can result in serious health consequences, the adoption of health risk behaviors such as substance abuse ore self-harm as coping mechanisms, and even early death.”

Last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study “demonstrated long-term consequences in adulthood of multiple adverse experiences that occur in childhood, including increased likelihood of stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and early death, as well as lower job performance and employment. ACEs are quite common”

The economic costs of untreated trauma-related alcohol and drug abuse alone were estimated at $161 billion in 2000.

Trauma happens when a person’s coping responses are overwhelmed. The brain’s stress response system is overloaded and affects every aspect of a person’s life. Well meaning people may say, “You need to just get over it,” but as the saying goes, “It’s easier said than done,” and “Everyone heals at their own pace.”

“Trauma services must focus first on an individual’s physical and psychological safety; they must also be flexible, individualized, culturally competent, promote respect and dignity, and based on best practices” advises the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Researchers are studying genetic and chemical effects on the brain that affect fear memories, why and how they occur.

“As gene research and brain imaging technologies continue to improve, scientists are more likely to be able to pinpoint when and where in the brain PTSD begins. This understanding may then lead to better targeted treatments to suit each person’s needs or even prevent the disorder before it causes harm.”

Signs and symptoms include re-experiencing the event over and over, avoiding reminders of the experience and hyper-arousal (constant stress and anger.)

PTSD can occur at any age. Women are more likely than men to develop this disorder. Everyone doesn’t experience it, and it can be treated.

For more information, visit online at, or contact Family Recovery Center, 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468 or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.