Recently, my practice has been busy helping people better understand how we react to trauma after the horrific shooting at the Aurora movie theater. Often times when experiencing a traumatizing event, individuals feel like they are in a fog and they don’t know what to do. They are confused about their emotions and behaviors, and possibly frightened by nightmares, flashbacks, and images they have of the incident. These are all common signs that the person may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People feel altered by traumatizing events as if they will never be the same. This scares them. It creates feelings of being out of control and helplessness. While as others may feel rejuvinated by such an event and that they need to live their life to the fullest because they are alive. The bottom line is that people experience and react to trauma differently. In this shooting, those in the theater may experience PTSD symptoms, and the police, family members, parametics, etc. may also find themselves with PTSD symptoms.
Below are some signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder per the American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV:
1. A person who experienced an event that involved the threat of death or injury of self or others. The term injury can be used broadly when considering trauma. The person reacted to this event with fear and helplessness.
2. Continued and intrusive thoughts of the event which may include images, thoughts, or perceptions. Such perceptions may include, “I am not safe,” “I cannot trust my judgement,”or “I am permanently damaged.”
3. Distressing dreams of the event.
4. Feeling as if the event is recurring.
5. Avoidant behavior of the trauma (ie: not wanting to talk about the trauma or avoiding the place in which it occured).
6. Feeling detached or estranged from others. Decreased interest in participation in activities.
7. Hypervigilence, difficulty with sleep, irritability, struggle with concentration, increased startle response.
8. Physical symptoms such as head aches, feeling heavy, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
If you know of anyone with these symptoms, we recommend they see an experienced therapist who has a specialty in trauma. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reporcessing Therapy) is one of the best therapy treatments for PTSD. Finding a therapist who is seasoned in EMDR can help quickly treat PTSD. The sooner the traumatized individual gets into treatment, the better.