Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression
PTSD and depression commonly co-occur. One can trigger the other or put you more at risk for developing it along with a traumatic experience. The symptoms of each condition alone can be debilitating, but together these mental illnesses can severely impact your ability to function. The best way to manage and live with PTSD and depression is to get expert, focused treatment that addresses both conditions at the same time and to use the tools learned in treatment to continue making healthy choices.
Life with one mental illness can be disruptive, challenging, and damaging, but having two can be even more difficult.
PTSD and depression are both very serious mental illnesses that cause a lot of dysfunction. The good news is that they are also both treatable.
The best outcomes occur when you get expert treatment that addresses both conditions. You can then take the tools you learn in treatment and apply them to your life beyond, making positive choices and getting support from loved ones.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a serious mental illness triggered by traumatic experiences. Trauma is subjective but may include active military service, witnessing violence, being abused or assaulted, or going through an accident or natural disaster. Not all people who go through trauma will develop PTSD, but it is always possible, especially for those who do not have good support or struggle with other mental illnesses.
There are four main types of symptoms associated with PTSD, and these can begin anywhere from a month to years after trauma:
- Intrusive, troubling memories. You may experience flashbacks that feel real, nightmares, and an inability to stop thinking about the trauma.
- Avoidance. To try to suppress these troubling memories, you may avoid talking about the traumatic event or any places or people that remind you of it.
- Negative thoughts and mood. PTSD can change the way you think about yourself and the world, making you feel hopeless, angry, ashamed, detached, and apathetic.
- Inappropriate reactions. You may be easily startled, easily scared, quick to react and always on the lookout for danger. You may also engage in self-destructive behaviors.
The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating and even lead to complications, such as substance use, eating disorders, suicide, and other mental illnesses, like depression.
What Is Major Depression?
Major depression is also called major depressive disorder, clinical depression, or just depression, and is one of the most common mental illnesses. Between 15 and 20 percent of people will develop depression at least once in their lives.
Depression is a mood disorder, which means that it changes how you think and feel about yourself and the world in general. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad, hopeless, and empty, being easily angry or frustrated, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, fatigue, changes in how you sleep and eat, anxiety, feeling guilty or worthless, difficulty thinking, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Everyone feels these things sometimes, but to be diagnosed with depression the symptoms have to be severe enough to disrupt your ability to function normally. They also have to persist most of the time, every day for two weeks or longer.
When PTSD and Major Depression Co-Occur
While there is no single, definitive cause for depression, there are risk factors and one of those is experiencing stressful events in your life. Traumatic events are stressful in the extreme, so it is not unusual for someone with PTSD to have depression as a result. It also may be that someone who has depression will be at a greater risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic experience.
Having these two mental health conditions together is not uncommon. Statistics show that about half of all people diagnosed with PTSD also have depression. It may even be possible to consider PTSD with depression a subtype of the traumatic disorder. Having both depression and PTSD increases the dysfunction that either can cause alone. In other words, living a normal life is much harder if you are both struggling to cope with trauma and experiencing major depression.
Getting Treatment for Both Conditions Is Essential
The best thing you can do for managing your mental health when you have PTSD and depression is to get professional treatment for both. If you have not been diagnosed with both or either of these conditions but are concerned about your symptoms, your first step should be to get a differential diagnosis. Experienced mental health professionals can determine which conditions are causing your symptoms and rule out others.
For the most positive outcomes of treatment you need to know which conditions you have. Only then can all your mental health issues be addressed, and this is the best way to get better. These two conditions are deeply intertwined, so any treatment of just one is only solving half of the problem.
Treating only PTSD will be helpful, but the lingering and unaddressed depression will continue to cause problems. In fact, the unmanaged symptoms of depression could trigger recurrences of PTSD. The best, most effective way to learn to live with both of these conditions is to treat them at the same time.
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The Benefits of Residential Care
Not all outpatient therapists are equipped to treat patients with two such serious and trauma-related conditions. The best care you can get that will address both of your mental illnesses is in a residential facility with a multi-disciplinary team of experts.
Residential facilities can provide you with a safe environment and a certain amount of time to focus on getting well again. They can offer a varied treatment plan that is individualized to your specific needs and preferences.
For managing PTSD and depression, you will need specialized trauma-based therapy, behavioral therapies, and medical treatment. The best treatment facilities can offer these services as well as supplemental therapies and services like art or music therapy, recreation, yoga and meditation, and holistic and alternative medicine.
Coping with PTSD and Depression After Treatment
Treatment in even the best facility will not cure you, but it will give you the tools you need to process and live with the trauma you experienced and to manage and prevent depression symptoms. One of the most important things you can do to live well with these mental illnesses is to surround yourself with supportive, loving family and friends. Social support is one of the most important factors in good mental health.
Other things you can do include keeping up with regular outpatient therapy, attending support group meetings, making healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding alcohol and drugs, engaging in activities you enjoy, and using healthy coping strategies for managing stress, like deep breathing or meditation. Listen to the story of Ben, who initially struggled after leaving rehab for PTSD and depression:
“I had a pretty good experience in treatment, but once I got home everything felt overwhelming. I had developed PTSD after being in a major car accident that left my best friend dead. I survived, barely had a scratch, which made me feel completely guilty and depressed, as well as traumatized. In rehab, I went through exposure therapy and learned how to face the memories of the accident and behavioral therapy to manage my negative thoughts and depression.
“But when I left treatment, the depression came back almost right away. I couldn’t stop feeling guilty and ashamed. I could barely get out of bed every day and go to school because I felt worthless and sad. My parents convinced me to go to a weekly support group meeting for people who have been through trauma. I also had a friend who got me back into doing triathlons, which I used to be really good at
“The support from other people who know what I’m going through, plus the persistence of my parents and friends, really helped me feel less worthless. The regular exercise also really boosted my mood. It hasn’t been easy, but treatment set me on the path to feeling good again, and my own steps for coping with these issues have helped me recover.”
If you or someone you care about is struggling with a traumatic experience, feelings of depression, or both, reach out for professional help. These conditions are treatable and manageable, but not without expert guidance. A good treatment facility can help you learn to cope with trauma and start to enjoy life again.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.