Some people say that if you wait and you’re patient, you can recover from anything. There’s that old adage that time heals all wounds. But sometimes I do wonder about the truth in that statement. Does time heal all wounds?
I must know at least five people who either have PTSD or whose husbands/brothers/grandfathers suffer from it. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is something that someone can get after seeing or living through a dangerous event. You can get PTSD at any age. Most people think of war veterans when they think about PTSD, but this also includes survivors of physical and sexual abuse, accidents, natural disasters, and other serious events. Someone may event get PTSD after a friend or family member experiences danger, gets harmed, or suddenly and unexpectedly dies. One might argue that with time, those who suffer from PTSD will recover, but it really takes more than just time. Someone who suffers from something truly traumatic can’t just wait it out and hope to recover.
Serious symptoms result from non-treatment of PTSD, including re-experiencing symptoms (flashbacks, dreams, and frightening thoughts), avoidance symptoms (staying away from reminders of the event, feelings of depression or guilt, loss of interest in activities, memory loss), and hyperarousal symptoms (being easily startled, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping, anger outbursts). None of these symptoms just go away with time. You may feel that you can suppress them by pushing the memories back (avoidance), but other symptoms may occur as a result, like depression, nightmares, irritability, and other symptoms.
I’m not an expert on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a doctor. I mean, I have a BA in Psychology, but that doesn’t qualify me to give advice on the issue. But, I know from personal experience that ignoring PTSD doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it only gets worse over time. I was once told by a therapist (because, yes, I suffer from it too), that it can actually amplify the disorder when you continue to push it back and push it back for so many years. The anxiety that goes with it, the desire to avoid reminders of the experience, the nightmares and flashbacks…they just get worse.
It’s like at first you don’t feel it at all, and then, years later, it hits you like a sledge-hammer because you kept avoiding it. It’s better to treat it early on.
Treatment options according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, including:
Exposure therapy. This therapy helps people face and control their fear. It exposes them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing, or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings.
Cognitive restructuring. This therapy helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way.
Stress inoculation training. This therapy tries to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching a person how to reduce anxiety. Like cognitive restructuring, this treatment helps people look at their memories in a healthy way.
There are other treatment options out there, but the NIMH recommends talking to a therapist about those options. So, does time heal all wounds? Maybe not. But time, and a little help from others probably will. I think it’s a long road to recovery when you go through something traumatic, but the outcome isn’t necessarily bleak, especially if you have a good support system.
The important this is to get help as soon as possible and build a network of support people. As tempting as it is to avoid thinking about the experience and dealing with it, believe me, avoiding it does not help. If you know someone who suffers from PTSD and is in crisis, at first you may need to help arrange appointments and be that support person during the appointments. Help ensure (s)he gets to the appointments on a regular basis.
If you know someone who is in crisis and thinking about suicide,
- Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (1–800–273–8255); TTY: 1–800–799–4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.
- If it’s really serious, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Do not leave your friend alone.
Just know that time alone may not be the ultimate healer, but time, support from friends, and learning strategies to help you get through it will help you heal.