How PTSD And Depression Are Connected
By Nadia Khan
Updated July 10, 2019
What Is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder borne of witnessing or going through something traumatic and terrible and involves dealing with mood and anxiety issues over a long period of time. The traumatic event can be something like going to or living through a war, being the victim of domestic or physical abuse or rape, witnessing death, living through a natural disaster, etc. In short, it's an unnatural event that you lived through or witnessed which left you traumatized.
PTSD symptoms do not show up or make themselves known right away. For example, a Veteran who was witness to horrific events in wartime is unlikely to wake up the next day and display symptoms of PTSD or have a sudden fear of going out on the battlefield. It may not hit him for weeks or months afterward. In that time, he may think he is healed and is over what happened to him. Therefore a sudden onset of symptoms may leave them feeling shocked and confused, or if the symptoms are gradual they may be missed all together until they begin to get worse. The symptoms most commonly associated with PTSD are:
- Flashbacks and nightmares that result in the person re-living the traumatic event. Many Veterans talk of waking up in the middle of the night hearing gunfire and screams or they have flashbacks, which mentally transports them back into the warzone. Certain things can trigger flashbacks, like the sudden noise of a car backfiring.
- Shifts in the mood where the person may wake up in the morning feeling completely fine and like their usual self but within a few hours begin to feel hopeless, numb and depressed. They may experience feelings of guilt and start to detach themselves from others around them. This typically worsens the symptoms of PTSD because it serves to make the individual feel even more isolated and alone.
- The person undergoes behavioral changes that are out of the norm. They are easily irritable and angered. They might become more aggressive and mean spirited or they may display fear, anxiety, and nervousness.
- Substance abuse can develop or crop up over time as some people may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope with and numb their symptoms.
- The person may begin to avoid situations, places and people that act as a trigger for what they went through and experienced. Over time this may lead to anxiety and result in the person being unwilling to leave their house or go through their normal activities.
What Is Depression?
Everyone goes through periods where they feel down, sad or stressed. It's a normal human reaction and emotion whenever anything goes wrong in our life. However, when those feelings persist, increase in intensity and begin to negatively impact your life or the life of others around you it's cause for concern and maybe depression. Some of the signs that may indicate depression are:
- Feeling depressed and down for most of the day on a daily basis;
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities;
- Difficulty getting through the day and completing daily tasks;
- Fluctuating weight;
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much;
- Feeling tired and lethargic;
- Lack of energy, less active, movements feel slowed down;
- Experiencing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, no self-confidence;
- Lack of concentration;
- Inability to make decisions;
- Preoccupation with the idea of death or wishing to harm self.
According to the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)when someone experiences at least five of the symptoms mentioned above for a period of at least weeks or more, the doctor may diagnose depression (barring any other illnesses).
How PTSD Is Linked With Depression:
PTSD and Depression share similar symptoms in that both disorders affect your emotions, your mood, result in a lack of interest towards things and have an impact on your energy levels. In fact, having PTSD increases your chances of depression and vice versa.
One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is depression, there is a strong correlation between the two and it is entirely possible to be suffering from both disorders simultaneously. According to medical research, almost fifty percent of the people who have been diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from depression. The odds of someone with PTSD developing depression are three to five times higher than someone without PTSD. On the flip side, someone who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder is more likely to experience stress and anxiety in addition to their depression. The two disorders even share some common symptoms like:
- Lack of interest in things;
- Sleeping problems;
- Quick to anger;
- Prone to aggressive behavior;
Despite their similarities, there are also some strong differences between the two disorders. Someone with PTSD will likely experience spikes in their anxiety level when they are facing certain things, people or places. These act as triggers that are linked to the trauma they witnessed or endured. For example, someone who was raped in a bar may experience anxiety attacks whenever they go near a bar or they might physically be incapable of walking into a bar without having flashbacks to the attack. Unlike PTSD, depression is not necessarily linked to any one particular event or issue. While some circumstances may lead to depression, the symptoms can fluctuate regardless of what's happening in a person's life. For example, if someone falls into a depression after the passing of a loved one, they will be sad and depressed regardless of where they are or what they are doing.
Treatment Options For PTSD And Depression:
Even though PTSD and Depression are two separate disorders, they can be treated in a similar fashion and use similar treatment methods. Treatment for the two mental disorders shares a common goal: to decrease the severity of the symptoms and help the patient regain their quality of life.
Treatment Options Include:
Depending on the severity of your situation, your symptoms and what you're going through, the doctor will prescribe medications like anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills or a combination of all three. There is no one pill combination that works for everyone so the doctor will work with you to find the right dose and combination to treat you. This may take some time and involve trying out several types of medications and see their effect.
- Talk therapy:
When it comes to treating PTSD and Depression, this is one of the most effective treatment methods, as it provides more than just a Band-Aid solution and will arm you with the tools you need to successfully manage your illness long term. The most popular type of psychotherapy used is CBT - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT yields results fairly quickly with the patient seeing the therapist for between five to twenty sessions. The goal of CBT is to identify and assess the negative, harmful thoughts and experiences the patient is going through and either change their pattern of thinking or arm them with the necessary skills and strategies in order to overcome and manage their challenges and deal with difficult situations in a positive manner.
The beauty of CBT is that it is a suitable treatment option for all ages and can be done online with a therapist as well as in person.
In addition to individual therapy sessions, the doctor may also recommend group counseling sessions. Group therapy helps the patient discuss what they're going through, their feelings and emotions with people who can relate and share similar stories. It is often a lot easier to speak about what you have been through with someone who can relate to your situation. Group therapy helps to provide that support and can help you feel less alone.
Finally, couples and family therapy may also be recommended since what you're going through may be having a negative impact on your family or adding stressors to your relationships. Family therapy helps your family members better understand the illness and what you are going through and provides them with an outlet to share their pain.
- Changes In Lifestyle:
These are non-medical things you can do to promote a healthier lifestyle such as exercising, eating balanced, nutritious meals, meditation and yoga, taking up a pleasurable activity, sleeping well, etc. All these things are designed to make you feel better, give you things to look forward to and will over time help to decrease the negative symptoms of PTSD and Depression.
Because the two illnesses mirror each other so closely and have similar treatment methods, the mental health professionals who specialize in and treat PTSD are usually trained in treating depression and vice versa.
Why is it important to seek help right away? When it comes to any kind of mental disorder or illness, early intervention is always best and yields more positive results. Left untreated for a long period of time both PTSD and Depression will likely lead to chronic complications. The symptoms will worsen, the quality of your life will decrease steadily, you may have a difficult time holding down a job, maintaining social and familial links and chances are high the people you love the most will also suffer from the blowback of what you're going through.
Seeking treatment will help you deal with all these issues and get back to your normal self.
If you feel unsure of where to start looking for help, it can start with a simple visit to your local clinic or a Google search for local area counselors. It is easy to isolate yourself from family and friends because you might feel they don't and can't understand what you're going through. Therefore if you simply want someone to talk to anonymously because you're not yet ready for medical diagnosis or don't know how to approach the issue with your family, then consider seeking help online. Sites like BetterHelp contain a wealth of information on mental health issues and their licensed therapists are available 24 hours to provide you with support.
In their most extreme and severe form, PTSD and Depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It is also not unusual for someone suffering from PTSD to become violent or aggressive towards others. If you feel yourself experiencing something like this or have an urge to express violence either towards yourself or others, it is imperative you get help right away. Call a crisis hotline or 9-1-1 for immediate help.