What are the Causes of PTSD?
PTSD. Those four letters, which represent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, have been increasingly making headlines in America for many years. Four simple letters that spell an entirely new life for those doing their best to handle the crippling effects of trauma.
Most often, when we hear a story about someone suffering from PTSD, it has been caused by their experiences in the military. To be certain, war is one of the leading causes of PTSD, and the life-altering, far-reaching impact of war on the minds and bodies of our military men and women is only beginning to be understood. But there are other causes of PTSD apart from combat-related PTSD that aren’t as well-known or talked about. Let’s take a closer look at some of the lesser-discussed, but also common, causes of PTSD that can also have a monumental impact on the lives of those suffering from the disorder.
Common Causes of PTSD
- Car accidents, plane crashes, or other vehicular hazards or collisions
- Unexpected death of a loved one
- Sexual abuse
- Ongoing harassment
- Physical assault
- Emotional abuse
- Childhood neglect
- Natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, blizzards, avalanches, and more)
- Terrorist attacks
The knowledgeable and experienced team at Bridges to Recovery is equipped to help you through your PTSD whatever the cause, and we will work with you to develop a plan that will serve you the rest of your life. Our therapists have worked with clients who have survived some of the most harrowing experiences imaginable, with the most common causes of PTSD we regularly see being car crashes, physical assault, and sexual assault.
Causes of PTSD: Car Crashes and Other Accidents
According to the CDC, more than 32,000 people died on U.S. roads in 2013, while countless others were involved in traumatic crashes and were fortunate enough to survive. While that number represents a reduction in the motor vehicle death rate per capita over the last 13 years, America’s progress has been significantly slower than that of other wealthy countries.
While we can all point fingers at the increasing distractions drivers face, including the use of cellphones while driving, the fact remains that while we can control whether or not we allow ourselves to be distracted by mobile devices, texting, music, tiredness, passengers, eating, excessive speed, and so forth, we cannot control what other drivers are doing. This is a reality for all of us, and makes driving or riding in a vehicle a potentially dangerous activity for all of us, as well. But the level of fear most of us attach to driving is very different from the level felt by those who have experienced or been significantly impacted by a car crash. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are among the leading causes of PTSD in America.
Unless you live in a large city with an extensive network of public transportation options, driving or riding in a car regularly is likely key to living a full life. For much of America, cars are essential for traveling to work, visiting with friends and family, going shopping, running errands, and so forth. That makes living with PTSD caused by a car accident all the more difficult, as the chance of experiencing intense anxiety is literally at every turn. And that anxiety can play a role in actually causing an accident, which would only serve to enhance the PTSD you’re already experiencing.
PTSD treatment is essential to help you live the life you deserve without being riddled with fear and anxiety. Bridges to Recovery can help you understand and handle your PTSD so the fear of another accident is less likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. While there is nothing anyone can do to guarantee you’ll never experience another car accident, there are steps you can take to ensure it isn’t caused by your excessive fear of it happening.
Like many anxiety disorders, it is also important to consider that the triggers are varied, and there are some that someone suffering from PTSD won’t even be aware of until they happen. It is also key to understand that while a car crash or other accident may be the cause of your PTSD, the effects of the accident are not relegated to the road. Depending on the severity of the PTSD, those suffering may experience flashbacks at any point in time, even without a trigger. These times can include while dreaming, when startled by a noise, person, or animal unexpectedly coming toward them, or myriad other things. While the many causes of PTSD and their effects are innumerable, the necessity for treatment is universal.
Causes of PTSD: Violent Assaults and Sexual Abuse
While violent assaults are not always sexual in nature, similar to sexual assault and prolonged sexual abuse, they involve intense violation. This violation brings with it emotional trauma and possible physical trauma, both of which can difficult to grapple with in daily life. Once someone has been assaulted, the many feelings they experienced during the attack or attacks, and afterward, never truly go away. Unfortunately, there is no reset button in the body or mind that can completely erase events that you never should have had to endure. However, the transformative power of therapy can help you in ways that might not seem possible right now.
Why do some people experience PTSD while others don’t?
In short – there are lots of possible reasons. While people are increasingly understanding the significance and severity of PTSD in ways they historically haven’t, there are still unfortunately some people who simply don’t get it. And while that can be very frustrating and even angering, we encourage you to do your best to not worry about how others feel about what you’re going through. This is your reality; this is your life and your battle to win, and whether they fully comprehend how difficult that is or not does not change your truth.
While it is impossible to pinpoint all the causes of PTSD given our entirely unique life experiences, let’s look at some of the reasons that one person might be more likely to experience PTSD than another:
PTSD may be a survival mechanism. It can be said that the primary goal of our brain is to keep us alive. There are exceptions, of course, which are too complex to touch on here, but generally speaking, most of us are ruled by a brain that keeps our survival as the number one task on its to-do list. However, sometimes the ways our minds and bodies operate are not properly aligned with the end goal.
Another example of this is the body’s resistance to losing weight, even if you are carrying a great deal of excess body fat. As smart as the body is, it doesn’t always “understand” that your efforts to lose weight are actually to its benefit, and that you aren’t starving. So, it holds onto this excess physical weight that may be negatively affecting you in countless ways, thinking it is protecting you from death by starvation. Similarly, the mind may be presenting flashbacks to you as a way to keep you mindful of the danger you once experienced without realizing that those reminders are actually harmful and preventing you from putting the past behind you as best you can, and moving toward a happier future.
At Bridges to Recovery, we will focus on what you are experiencing – in your own words – to create a treatment plan with you that will help you move beyond your past, regardless of the causes of your PTSD. Through developing a personalized therapy plan, and medication recommendations as appropriate, we will help you to stop your mind from trying to protect you with unhelpful flashbacks while teaching it how to move forward. There is no magic eraser to forget what has happened, but there is also no reason to let it continue to be a dominant force in your everyday life.
PTSD may be caused by a heightened “fight-or-flight” response. Many of us first officially learned about fight-or-flight when we were in grade school, though we were ruled by it from the first breath we took. As a refresher, Wikipedia defines it as such: “The fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.” We’ve all felt this response too many times to count, and are familiar with the mental, emotional, and physical sensations it brings. These sensations are brought about by stress hormones, like adrenaline, that the body is quickly flooded with to prepare it to protect itself through a counter-attack or speedy retreat, and reduce feelings of pain.
While it would be logical to assume that we all get a similar adrenaline rush, studies have shown abnormally high levels of these stress hormones in people suffering from PTSD, whether there is an active threat or not. There is reason to believe that for some people, one of the causes of PTSD is that their body never learned to stop sending adrenaline, even after the traumatic event was over. So as their body relives the trauma again and again, so does their mind.