This blog post was written by Kim Crowley, 4th year English Major & Marketing Minor at the University of Maine and Community Response & Prevention Team Intern at Partners for Peace.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder which often develops after a person experiences a traumatic event.
Someone who has experienced trauma may consciously or unconsciously repress their emotions and thoughts in an effort to avoid thinking about their trauma. However, they end up reliving the event through flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, and nightmares.
People affected by PTSD may also have high levels of anxiety, distress, and depression, or develop substance abuse disorders. PTSD can affect a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life, often to debilitating levels.
PTSD is most often associated with soldiers and veterans—related to the trauma associated with experiencing war and life on the battlefield. However, they are not the only people affected by trauma; a startlingly high number of domestic abuse victims and survivors develop PTSD as well. Studies show that the prevalence rate of PTSD among domestic violence survivors is between 31% and 84%, compared to about 3.5% of the general population.
Experiencing any form of abuse for any period of time can be traumatic. Whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, economic, sexual, or a combination of forms, the pain of being abused does not simply go away. Even when the violence and abuse stop and the survivor appears to be healing, they may face constant battles with the memories of their trauma.
What are some other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Symptoms that may be exhibited include:
- Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world
- Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
- Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
- Irritable or aggressive behavior
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
- Exaggerated startle response
- Problems with concentration
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep
(Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
It is important for survivors of abuse and violence who develop PTSD to seek help when they feel ready to do so. Some forms of treatment for PTSD include medication (often in the form of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs) and trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) like exposure therapy, cognitive processing, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
Along with medical or psychiatric help, survivors need understanding and strong support systems in order to facilitate healing. The survivor might act differently than they used to, or push their loved ones away as a form of coping. However, this does not mean family and friends should abandon them or leave them to deal with their disorder on their own.
As a family member or friend, one can support a trauma survivor by learning about PTSD, offering support and a listening ear when necessary, or accompanying the survivor to doctor’s visits or to run errands if they do not feel up to doing these things by themselves.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, call our 24-hour confidential helpline at 1-800-863-9909.
Partners for Peace provides advocacy, legal help, support groups, and other resources to victims of abuse of all ages. If necessary, we can help connect you with mental health resources and providers to help treat PTSD. We want domestic violence survivors who are experiencing PTSD to know, you are not alone.