How PTSD And Depression Are Connected
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence, which could potentially be triggering.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder borne of witnessing or going through something traumatic and involves dealing with mood and anxiety issues over a long period. 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, or living through a natural disaster. In short, it's an unnatural event you lived through or witnessed that left you traumatized.
PTSD symptoms do not appear or make themselves known immediately. The sudden onset of symptoms may leave someone with PTSD feeling shocked and confused, or if the symptoms are gradual, they may miss them altogether until they begin to get worse. The symptoms most commonly associated with PTSD are
Flashbacks and nightmares that result in the person reliving the traumatic event. For example, a veteran may talk of waking up in the middle of the night hearing gunfire and screams or having flashbacks that mentally transport 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 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, become more aggressive and mean-spirited, or display fear, anxiety, and nervousness.
Substance abuse can develop or crop up over time as some people may turn to drugs or alcohol 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. 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. Some of the signs that may indicate depression are
Feeling depressed and down for most of the day on most days
Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Difficulty getting through the day and completing daily tasks
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, and 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 at least weeks or more, the doctor may diagnose depression (barring any other illnesses).
How PTSD Is Linked With Depression
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 possible to experience both disorders simultaneously. According to research, almost fifty percent of people 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 depression.
Despite their similarities, the two conditions also have some substantial differences. Someone with PTSD will likely experience spikes in their anxiety level when facing certain things, people, or places. These triggers are linked to the trauma they witnessed or endured.
Unlike PTSD, depression is not necessarily linked to any 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.
Treatment Options For PTSD And Depression
Even though PTSD and depression are separate disorders, they can be treated similarly and use similar treatment methods. Treatment options include the following:
Depending on the severity of your situation, your symptoms, and what you're going through, the doctor may prescribe medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, or a combination of all three. No one pill combination works for everyone, so the doctor will work with you to find the right dose and combination to treat you. This may take time and involve trying out several medications and seeing their effect.
When treating PTSD and depression, therapy is an effective treatment method, 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 cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT yields fairly quick results, 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 thinking pattern or arm them with the necessary skills and strategies to overcome and manage their challenges and deal with difficult situations in a positive manner.
In addition to individual therapy sessions, the doctor may also recommend group counseling sessions. It is often 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 negatively impact your family or add stressors to your relationships.
Changes In Lifestyle
You can do non-medical things 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 may make you feel better, give you something to look forward to, and, over time, can help to decrease the negative symptoms of PTSD and depression.
Online Therapy Can Help
When it comes to any kind of mental disorder or illness, early intervention is always best and yields more positive results. Left untreated, both PTSD and depression may lead to chronic complications.
If you want someone to talk to incognito because you're not yet ready for a medical diagnosis or don't know how to approach the issue with your family, then consider online therapy. When you sign up, you’re matched with a qualified therapist so that you can get started with treatment right away. You can attend sessions from your home or anywhere with an internet connection, and you can reach out to your therapist any time, 24/7, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.
Online treatment is effective, too. One study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that online treatment “appears to be an efficacious treatment option for people with PTSD.” In the study, 69.2% of participants no longer met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of PTSD post-treatment; at the three-month follow-up, this had increased to 77%. If you’re ready to get started, take the next step by connecting with BetterHelp.
PTSD and depression are separate mental health conditions, but many people with PTSD may also experience depression. If you or someone you love has symptoms of PTSD and/or depression, seek help right away. Online therapy can be a good place to start.
Can You Be Diagnosed With Both PTSD And Depression?
Yes, you can be diagnosed with both PTSD and depression. In fact, it's common. One research report attempted to understand the crossover between the two conditions, citing details from the National Comorbidity Study that 48 to 55% of those with PTSD were also diagnosed with major depression at some point in their life.
What Can PTSD Be Mistaken For?
Many symptoms of different mental health conditions overlap. As a result, posttraumatic stress disorder can be mistaken for depressive and anxiety disorders and other conditions. It is also worthwhile to state that it is possible to live with more than one mental health condition or mental illness. Peer-reviewed studies indicate that people with PTSD are at a statistically higher risk of concerns such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, and even type two diabetes. A healthcare provider who diagnoses post-traumatic stress disorder may explore alternate explanations to ensure that they are providing the correct diagnosis.
Does PTSD Cause Suicidal Thoughts?
PTSD has a known connection to suicidal thoughts and behavior. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or in need of support, please contact the national suicide prevention lifeline by calling 988. Individuals and loved ones can find additional resources on the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.
What It's Like To Live With PTSD?
Understanding PTSD symptoms can help illustrate what it is like to live with the condition, though people may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms that someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience include:
Recurring memories or dreams that relate to the incident
Physical symptoms/signs of stress
Being easily startled
Feeling tense, "on edge, or "on guard"
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Irritability and/or anger
Risky, destructive, or reckless behavior
Avoidance of events, places, or objects that remind an individual of the incident
Avoidance of thoughts or feelings related to the incident
Sometimes, strong or seemingly disproportionate emotional reactions (e.g., heightened feelings of nervousness and fear) may occur in those who have experienced traumatic or life-threatening events.
While it may seem that most people think of military combat when they think about PTSD, the onset of PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing any traumatic event. If you have experienced a traumatic or stressful event and live with PTSD or think you might have, consult a licensed medical or mental health professional for individualized advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The help and support of a mental health professional may be advantageous for those who experience traumatic events, even if they do not go on to meet the criteria for PTSD. Those who seek treatment for PTSD can reduce symptoms with the support of a therapist and other professionals.
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