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Baillie McCane: Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder and when you should seek help

Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop when a person experiences a shocking, scary or dangerous event. These events can include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat and various other forms of violence.

(Photo by ipopba, iStock/Getty Images Plus, via UK Healthcare)

The University of Kentucky HealthCare Outpatient Child and Adult Psychiatry Clinic has seen an overall increase in anxiety disorders associated primarily with the COVID-19 pandemic, between issues with infection, the strain of lockdown and fears of reintegrating into the world with work and school. Many of the new PTSD cases at UK HealthCare are also associated with first responders and health care workers due to the recent influx of critically ill patients.

Most people experience a range of reactions after a traumatic event, but many recover from the symptoms naturally. The diagnosis of PTSD occurs when the symptoms become chronic.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least one month:

• At least one re-experiencing symptom.
• At least one avoidance symptom.
• At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms.
• At least two cognition and mood symptoms.

PTSD is an often stigmatized and/or misunderstood mental health issue in which symptoms can occur for months or years after the traumatic event. Raising awareness can help both individuals and professionals discover ways to identify and manage PTSD symptoms.

Severe cases of PTSD can lead people to feel like there is no hope. If you or someone you love are in crisis and thinking about suicide, know that there are resources available to help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Veterans Crisis Line connects service members and veterans in crisis, as well as their family members and friends, with qualified Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text messaging service. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to talk to someone or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.

Baillie McCane is injury prevention and outreach coordinator, University of Kentucky HealthCare Trauma/Surgical Services.

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