Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When she was a child living at home with her parents, Barb Fix learned to associate the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of the night with death. Because every time the phone rang during the night, it meant someone had died, and she remembers waking up to her mother wailing loudly. A ringing phone in the middle of the night became a stimulus that, for Fix, triggered unpleasant responses. When she left home for college, she continued to experience intense emotional and physical symptoms whenever the phone would ring after midnight.


“As I made my way to answer the phone,” Fix says, “I would experience panic-like symptoms—fear, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and a sense of death. When I answered the phone it was either a wrong number or my college friends at a late night party.”


Even though she didn’t receive any death notifications in the middle of the night after she left home, it took several years for Fix’s unpleasant reactions and symptoms to extinguish on their own.


While this story illustrates a small trauma and may lack the full criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it can help us understand how a trauma like war, accident, flood, rape or abuse can produce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms severe enough to impact a person’s ability to live a normal life. 


When PTSD makes the news, it is usually related to soldiers returning from war, And, with good reason. 12.5% of soldiers returning from recent wars in the Middle East experienced symptoms severe enough to meet the clinical diagnosis of PTSD.


But, according to Fix, M.Ed., LPC, a counselor at The Village Family Service Center, PTSD is not only a disorder of soldiers. Fifty to ninety percent of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime. Less than 10% will suffer from full-blown PSTD, and while that doesn’t sound like a huge number, it is high enough that most of us will at one time or another be affected by a family member, friend or coworker who is suffering from PTSD.


PSTD is an anxiety disorder that may occur after a psychological and or physical trauma/event. Basically, PSTD results from a change in how we respond to stress. Stress hormones and body chemicals are affected by a trauma—and, because they play a part in relaying information to our brain, they can cause the brain to store information incorrectly.  This can then result in an abnormal response to certain types of stress—the type of stress depends on the trauma experienced. 


Symptoms of PTSD usually fit into one or more of three categories—

1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks or intrusive memories triggered by events or actions with some similarity to the traumatic event.
2. Avoidance of situations that may trigger flashbacks.
3. Increased arousal. Exaggerated fear, anger and/or feelings of being threatened that can lead to fight or flight response.


Fortunately, PTSD can be treated. Treatment may include individual counseling, group counseling, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), exposure-type therapies, and medication. The first step in seeking treatment is to recognize you don’t have to live with negative responses significantly affecting your life. The second step is to seek help from a professional who can determine the type of treatment needed, and then use this treatment to help you reduce symptoms and increase coping skills.


The Village Family Service Center has counselors throughout North Dakota and Minnesota who can help people suffering from PTSD. For more information or to find the office nearest you, contact The Village Family Service Center.