When Does PTSD Go Away—Or Does It?
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or has been struggling with PTSD for a long time, you may be wondering when PTSD goes away. You may even wonder if you will ever completely recover.
PTSD symptoms affect different people in different ways depending on who they are, what traumatic events they've been through, and how they are approaching treatment. With treatment from mental health professionals, most people with PTSD learn to manage their symptoms, continue the journey of healing trauma, and live happy lives. For others, PTSD does go away, but there's no easy answer as to when. Professional treatment takes time.
Here we'll talk about what PTSD is, how it's treated, and how long you can expect it to last.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is short for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both women and men can develop PTSD through a single or even multiple traumatic events. A PTSD diagnosis is administered by a licensed therapist or medical professional. Patients with PTSD may experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, apathy, and other negative emotions. Some of these can mimic the same emotions people experience with depression and other forms of mental illness. Those with PTSD may also experience feelings of intense fear, anger, or distress that may or may not be triggered by certain events. Physical sensations such as difficulty with sleep or a stress response with increased blood pressure or adrenaline are also common.
Feelings of anxiety and depression may manifest as ongoing feelings or as separate episodes. Anxiety can present as panic attacks, for instance. Depression may come and go, remaining for days or weeks at a time and then going away for months or years.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a chronic and severe anxiety disorder. The onset of PTSD is normally triggered by sudden (and sometimes unexpected) exposure to a traumatic life event. Examples of sudden and unexpected events that can trigger the trauma of PTSD are natural disasters, wars, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, the death of a loved one, or witnessing someone else being abused. According to the American Psychiatric Association, having PTSD involves intense disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.
Someone with PTSD may experience the physical and emotional effects of a traumatic event as if these events are still happening. PTSD can cause ongoing episodes in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, dissociative episodes, and extreme anxiety. When comparing acute stress disorder and PTSD, the main difference between these two anxiety-related disorders is that post-traumatic stress disorder is a chronic mental health condition that can last a lifetime. Acute stress disorder is normally limited to one episode and doesn't have any lasting or chronic effects.
What Causes PTSD?
Unlike anxiety and depression, however, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Instead, PTSD occurs as a result of trauma. It used to be believed that only combat veterans suffered from PTSD. While many combat veterans do get PTSD, we now know that people can get PTSD as a result of other life events. Examples include violent crime, abusive relationships, and even traffic collisions.
Is PTSD Dangerous?
In most cases, PTSD isn't dangerous, though people struggling with it may have difficulty living their lives, meeting their commitments and responsibilities, and maintaining healthy relationships.
However, in severe cases, PTSD can be dangerous. People with the condition may have thoughts of suicide. Without a good support network and possibly the right professional help, they may hurt themselves or worse. People with PTSD this severe may begin their treatment in an inpatient format, staying in a hospital or mental care facility until their condition improves. This allows them to begin the hardest part of their recovery in a safe environment under the supervision of a healthcare team.
If you are thinking about suicide, considering harming yourself or others, feeling that any other person may be in any danger, or if you have any medical emergency, you must immediately call the emergency service number (1-800-273-8255 in the US and 0800-689-5652 in the UK) and notify the relevant authorities. Seek immediate in-person assistance.
PTSD can also be dangerous if people with the condition try to self-medicate. For example, some people with PTSD may develop alcoholism. Alcohol replicates some of the effects of feel-good chemicals in the brain so it can provide momentary relief from the feelings of anxiety and depression that can be symptomatic of PTSD. However, alcohol increases the incidence and severity of depression long-term. It can also make it even harder for those with PTSD to maintain a healthy lifestyle and relationships.
How Is PTSD Treated?
PTSD is treated in different ways depending on the severity, the cause, and the individual. PTSD treatment can include medication and/or therapy, but the kind and course of these treatments can vary.
Medication may be prescribed for a short time or indefinitely. These medications are usually similar to those used to treat anxiety and depression. Depending on the nature and severity of the condition and the preferences of the patient, they may get a prescription for "rescue medication" that can be taken in response to symptoms like panic attacks, instead of being taken regularly.
Other effective treatments include talk therapy. The goal of talk therapy for PTSD, at least initially, is less about curing PTSD and more about managing its symptoms. The therapist or counselor may begin by identifying symptoms like anxiety attacks or depressive episodes. Then, they may focus on how to manage these symptoms using certain coping strategies. A common treatment to help heal trauma is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Behavioral therapy, which is common for many anxiety and mood disorders, is another proven route to recovery from trauma.
Some people with PTSD may choose group therapy as opposed to individual counseling. This can be a great way for the patients to come to terms with having an emotional disorder as well as to learn practical coping and recovery methods from other people with the condition. Some people may "graduate" from one-on-one counseling to group therapy as they learn to manage and even overcome their condition. This type of therapy is usually free and offered through community groups rather than through hospitals or clinics.
Does PTSD Go Away?
Whether or not PTSD ever goes away completely depends on the individual. For some people, PTSD is chronic. Others may experience it short-term. Still, most people do learn to manage their symptoms.
Recovery time may depend on the person as well as the nature of the trauma that brought on their PTSD. People who suffered traumatic events such as traffic collisions or violent crime may develop symptoms similar to phobias and be treated similarly. They may be able to overcome their most severe symptoms fairly quickly, partially because they are likely exposed to their triggers fairly regularly just by going about their usual routines. For example, victims of crime usually have a hard time avoiding the outside and people who have survived traffic collisions can rarely avoid cars for very long. This can make their conditions more difficult at first, but easier to overcome overall. Still, symptoms may reappear when something reminds them of the event, like passing the location where it happened or the anniversary of the event, for instance.
People who survived more remarkable trauma like abuse or combat often have different symptoms and recovery rates. They may develop symptoms similar to anxiety and depression, for example. It could take months or years of treatment before the worst of their symptoms go away or to learn to manage them effectively. Some believe that PTSD doesn't "go away" so much as go "into remission".
Another reason that it can be difficult to tell whether PTSD is really gone completely is that sometimes symptoms from trauma can go away for extended periods of time before returning, sometimes because of a triggering event and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. As a result, it can be important for people who have or have had PTSD to be open about it with people close to them and with their healthcare team.
Life With PTSD
Whether you have PTSD or are supporting someone with PTSD, it may be best to be patient and allow recovery to take its course. Even if the PTSD seems to have gone away, you may also want to keep an eye out for recurrent symptoms, even years after the initial event.
It may also be important for people with PTSD to foster support groups, whether formal or otherwise. These can include family and friends as well as counselors, therapists, community organizations, or veteran's groups.
PTSD symptoms can sometimes present a barrier to traditional therapy such as in-person counseling. Those with the condition may fear going out in public for fear of encountering a trigger, for instance. They may feal more comfortable receiving mental health services in an online environment. Online therapy is also more convenient since it can be accessed from home.
Internet-based therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder has been proven effective. In a recent meta-analysis of studies, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been associated with positive outcomes for individuals with PTSD. Other online treatments like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for PTSD are undergoing additional research.
Whether or not PTSD goes away, most people with the condition from their trauma do eventually return to happy and healthy lives through a combination of treatment and natural recovery. If you’re looking to start treatment or need additional support on your journey to recovery, reach out to a BetterHelp therapist today.
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