stigma

PTSD Awareness Month

Did you know June is national PTSD awareness month? It is also Pride Month! And Men’s Health Month! And National Safety Month! (and probably more that I don’t know about!)

The one I want to talk about today is PTSD awareness, not because it is more important than any of the others, but because PTSD (or at least trauma) is part of almost all of my work.

Actually, there is tons of overlap between PTSD and LGTBQ folk, men, and safety.  For example, LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of trauma (such as bullying, harassment, traumatic loss, physical and sexual abuse, and societal stigma, bias, and rejection) than their peers. And while women are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD, men are more likely to experience a trauma and are less likely to get counseling in general. Also, trauma seriously impacts our ability to feel safe.

So what is PTSD? Good question, since I keep using that acronym, let’s start there - the long term for it is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

People might develop PTSD after experiencing something awful or tragic, where their life or someone else’s life or well-being is threatened; we call this a trauma. Sadly, trauma is super common in our world. About 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives according to the VA. Some examples of trauma are sexual assault, child sexual abuse, serious accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or witnessing death or injury. Others that are less physical in nature still have a strong impact, and I would argue the impact is often deeper or more complex; examples include things like childhood neglect (not getting your basic physical, emotional, or social needs met), verbal abuse, stalking, social rejection (of yourself or your community), and hearing about the details of trauma that happen to others.

Experiencing a trauma does not automatically mean you will have PTSD. Although you might still have some reactions that relate to what you experienced, and those reactions might pop up at any time. If you have PTSD you will have symptoms across multiple categories in addition to having witnessed or experienced a trauma.

The easiest way to explain PTSD it to describe it as a disorder of being stuck in the trauma.

People have different ways of being stuck in bad experiences. It can look like frequently reliving or re-experiencing things related to the trauma. You might be avoiding memories and reminders of what happened. You may notice changes in your thoughts and feelings that are directly related to what you experienced. And you might find yourself being highly reactive or on-guard. If this paragraphs sounds familiar to you, you probably have been feeling lonely too. Please know that you aren’t, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced trauma and up to 20% of those people go on to develop PTSD; that means literally millions of people are experiencing this. The good news is there is effective counseling for PTSD such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (tf-cbt). There is also growing evidence for EMDR.

Discovering if you have PTSD is the first step towards getting getting over it (and yes, research supports effective treatment for both adults and kids!) A psychologist can diagnose PTSD - if you are worried you might have it, schedule a free 15 minute chat with me to see if testing or counseling might be right for you. You don’t have to be stuck forever!

Cure Stigma

Mental health awareness continues this month! My last post got you thinking about how we define mental health. Now, let's talk about stigma. NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is taking on stigma this month with their Cure Stigma campaign. NAMI also has some wonderful suggestions on how to help reduce stigma here. Unfortunately, we create and reinforce stigma daily. When we don't understand a person's behavior we say they are "psycho" or when someone's mood changes we call them 'bipolar." Then, we avoid talking about it when a person actually has mental health concerns and needs help. The truth is that the words we use (and don't use) matter because of the meaning behind them. In this case we are sending the message "there is something wrong with you" and "if there really is something 'wrong' with you, don't talk about it." We are building stigma in a BIG way by using words and diagnoses when they don't apply to the person and by sending the message that those words and diagnoses are bad. We are building stigma when we refuse to talk about mental health. Let's start talking and thinking about the message we are sending! I try to do a lot of things to keep my table level - talk to friends, practice yoga, sing, read, bike, sit in the sun, listen to happy music, build my "tribe." What are you doing to support your mental health? 

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