PTSD and mental health

PTSD Mental health concept. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The depressed woman sitting alone on the floor in the dark room background. Film look.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is caused when an individual witnesses or experiences a tragic event. Though they may not surface for months or years, symptoms include sleeplessness, depression, a heightened state of anxiety, flashbacks to the event and avoidance of places, people or activities that are reminders of the trauma. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 7.7 million adults in the U.S. live with PTSD, though women are more likely to develop this condition.

PTSD can be debilitating, but with proper care and support, it is possible to live a healthy, positive life. If you’ve been diagnosed or feel you may be experiencing symptoms, here are some coping strategies:

Practice meditation

Numerous studies have suggested that meditation can minimize the symptoms of PTSD by reducing stress hormones and calming the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our ‘fight-or-flight’ response. That being said, there are ways to practice mindfulness off of the meditation cushion. Connect with nature by taking a walk without any digital distractions, or try guided meditations that help you with visualization.

Engage in physical activity

Research out of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK found that surfing can be an effective coping strategy for war veterans diagnosed with PTSD. According to the researchers, the activity helps veterans achieve a focused state of mind referred to as "the flow," in which they are so present in the moment that all other thoughts and emotions are disregarded.

Get a pet

A number of studies show adopting a trained animal can improve individuals suffering from PTSD-related symptoms like depression, anxiety and nightmares. Research also suggests that spending as little as a single week with a specially trained dog improved PTSD symptoms by 82%.

Journal to process emotions

Journaling has been known to improve cognitive function. Practice free-writing as a way to investigate your thoughts and feelings. Another more structured technique is jotting down a daily gratitude list. Research shows that cultivating gratitude not only reduces stress, but also has the potential to help individuals build resilience to overcome trauma.

Join a support group

Peer support groups are beneficial to those suffering from PTSD because they provide reassurance that you aren’t alone. You can search for a support group near you through ADAA's support group listing. To name a few:

  • Military With PTSD
  • Camp Hope: A PTSD Foundation of America Outreach
  • PTSD Alliance
  • PTSD Anonymous

Seek professional help

It is highly recommended that you seek out a specialist trained in trauma. If you are unsure of where you can go to get help for PTSD, begin by looking for mental health or medical professionals locally, such as:

  • Your family doctor
  • Social workers
  • Mental health counselors
  • Community mental health clinics
  • Support groups
  • Private clinics
  • Psychiatric services at local universities, schools, or hospitals

If you are a veteran, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1 (800) 273-8255 for help finding a mental health facility near you.