Most of the time, when people find out I have post traumatic stress disorder, they say, “But you don’t look like you have PTSD.”

You wouldn’t expect to see my photo on the brochures, I guess. Most of us think of a solider just back from war, not a perky blonde lady who is usually laughing and can’t stop quoting The Office in business meetings.

But PTSD can affect anyone. It can occur in people of all races, genders, ages and cultures who have experienced a traumatic or life-threatening event. And it’s surprisingly common—about 8% of people will experience PTSD in their lifetime.1

Post-traumatic stress can stem from many experiences, including: [2]

  • A car accident, plane crash or other serious accident
  • Childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Life-threatening health problems
  • Natural disasters, such as flooding, earthquakes or pandemics
  • Traumatic childbirth
  • Sexual assault
  • Violence and crime
  • The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
  • Any event that causes you to fear for your life

COVID-19 can cause post-traumatic stress

More than 30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 developed PTSD, early research from JAMA Psychiatry shows.

In a survey of health care workers during the pandemic by Yale University, nearly a quarter reported signs of probable PTSD.

As we all begin to process mass trauma and loss, trauma science offers clues on how to heal.

Who does PTSD affect?

Men, women and children can all develop PTSD. But some people are at higher risk than others, and not everyone who goes through a trauma will get PTSD.

It’s more likely to occur in people who:2

  • Have experienced repeated trauma
  • Experienced trauma in childhood
  • Receive little support from friends and family surrounding the trauma
  • Are dealing with extra stress like homelessness, racism or seeking asylum
  • Previously experienced anxiety and depression

What are the signs?

Symptoms of PTSD look different from person to person. They’re generally grouped into four types:3

  1. Intrusive memories. These memories can come in different forms. You might experience nightmares about the trauma or have flashbacks that make you feel like you are reliving the event.
  2. Avoidance. Most people with PTSD will avoid people and places that remind them of the traumatic event. They also might avoid thinking or talking about it. Some people use substances for numbing and avoidance purposes.
  3. Negative changes in thinking and mood. If you have PTSD, you might feel hopeless or numb. You may lose interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions. People with PTSD might be easily scared, angered or triggered by certain sights or sounds. It can cause difficulty sleeping or concentrating. It can also give you the sense of always being on guard for danger.

How can you get help?

If you or someone you know might have PTSD, please know that effective treatments are out there. Talk therapy and medications can help tremendously. 4

A good place to start is at your primary care doctor’s office. Your doctor can help you think through treatment plans and connect you with a therapist if needed.

In my personal experience, trauma-informed therapy can be a life-changing resource. Trauma-informed mental health professionals understand the impacts of trauma on our lives and relationships. Good trauma-informed care emphasizes making you feel safe, empowered, and supported.

If you want to look for trauma-informed providers in your area, there are websites that can help. You can also use our Find a Doctor tool to search for providers in North Carolina. Most Blue Cross NC members also have access to Quartet, a tech platform that matches them to a physician who can help.

Graphic explains how to get started with Quartet: Sign up on QuartetHealth.com, answer a few questions about yourself, and someone will reach out to you to welcome you and help you match with a behavioral health provider.

Reasons for hope

Trauma, especially in childhood, can impact your health profoundly. And recovery is hard and continuous work. That’s just the truth.

But this is also the truth: Healing is possible.

Six years ago I sat across from the psychologist who would diagnose me with PTSD, and I told her my story. I told her how the sound of footsteps coming toward me could send me into a panic attack. I told her how I’d wake up from nightmares so vivid that I’d struggle to pin down where I lived and what year it was.

She shook her head at me and said, “I don’t understand how you are alive today.”

“I’m not,” I told her. “Not really.”

Maybe that was true at the time—that I was existing, breathing, but not living. But it’s not true now. It’s been years of hard work and hard healing. I have told myself, over and over again, “You are safe now.” I’ve learned to identify how my trauma appears in my thought patterns and behaviors. I’ve discovered how to have healthy relationships with safe and wonderful people.

I still have symptoms, and the work isn’t finished.

But I am alive. Really.

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