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Beyond Fireworks: Breaking the Silence Around PTSD

By Alisandrea N. Elson, MD June 27, 2024 Posted in: Mental Health

The Fourth of July's fireworks displays may bring joy to many, but for some people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these celebrations cause immense anxiety and distress. 

Why do those loud booms cause such intense emotional and physical reactions in some with PTSD? One reason is because the brain's fear response, activated during the original trauma, can be re-triggered by similar sensory experiences, even if they are not inherently dangerous.

Unfortunately, PTSD is often misunderstood and stigmatized, which can prevent people from getting the help they need. The following are some facts about PTSD, which may be surprising, yet ultimately helpful for people with this condition as well as their loved ones. 

PTSD is not a character flaw or sign of personal weakness

Symptoms of PTSD can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health, and it is important to understand that experiencing symptoms of PTSD is not a reflection of one’s weakness. Rather, PTSD is a recognized psychological condition stemming from exposure to trauma. 

PTSD is not rare

An estimated 7-8% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.

PTSD is not just recognized in combat veterans

PTSD can be recognized not only combat veterans but also those who have experienced any traumatic event, including sexual assault, various types of abuse, natural disasters, accidents and other life-threatening situations. 

PTSD can affect all ages

PTSD can affect all ages. However, older adults may be less likely to seek help for PTSD due to stigma, shame, or a lack of awareness about the condition. This can lead to years of suffering alone. It is never too soon or too late to reach out for help.

PTSD symptoms vary widely

Loud noises are just one category of triggers of PTSD. Others can include crowds or confined spaces, specific sights or smells and anniversaries or reminders of the trauma. These triggers can cause a wide variety of reactions, including: 

  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping 
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Irritability and lashing out
  • Intense dread or fear
  • Derealization or depersonalization (feeling detached from surroundings or person)
  • Avoidance behaviors 
  • Difficulty with daily functioning

There is a great deal of hope for those with PTSD. Effective treatments, including medication, therapy or both can help improve this condition. If you or someone you know has symptoms of PTSD, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Reach out to a mental health professional or talk to your primary care provider. You do not have to face it alone. 

Alisandrea N. Elson, MD
Alisandrea N. Elson, MD

Alisandrea N. Elson, MD is a psychiatry provider with CHI Health.

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