BALTIMORE — Over the past few months, the city of Baltimore has seen its fair share of trauma.
From the loss of firefighters and an officer in the line of duty, to having one of the deadliest months in recent memory.
Trauma is all around us in the city, so we're looking at how trauma affects the body and what you can do about it.
Trauma is any psychological experience or event that happens where somebody experiences an overwhelming amount of stress and that stress exceeds a person's ability to cope with it.
It can then evolve into a lot of symptoms, that aren't limited to just being psychological. Collectively that stress and damage that is caused is called trauma.
Some people are more susceptible to developing trauma, says Dr. Rachna Raisinghani, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at GBMC and Medical Director for the Division of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at Sheppard Pratt.
There's also research that shows that there is a genetic heritability of trauma.
"If there is a strong family history of PTSD or trauma than someone who experiences trauma in their own lives is more likely than someone else without that family history to go on to develop PTSD," said Dr. Raisinghani.
Certain professions are also more prone to developing trauma, says Dr. Raisinghani, such as serving in the military, being a firefighter, being an EMT, frontline medical work, etc.
"Sometimes people may be able to have some resilience if they experience one traumatic event, but if they keep experiencing it over and over again, eventually, there's a straw that breaks the camels back," Dr. Raisinghani explained.
Dr. Raisinghani says it's considered understandable that someone would have such symptoms, like re-experiencing these traumatic events, having emotional numbing or becoming hyper-vigilant, where they're looking out for any signs of danger or future trauma.
"With time they tend to subside, there's a term for this for the first month, if someone's experiencing these, it's called an acute stress disorder or an acute stress reaction," she explained. "We tend to not intervene right away and start aggressively treating it at that time because for most people they are able to move on from it."
She explained that there's only a handful of people then that then go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder, which is something that persists after even a month or longer after a traumatic event.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Unwanted or intense memories of a trauma
- Vivid memories or flashbacks that make you feel like you’re reliving the event
- Feeling worried, fearful, anxious, or suspicious
- Strong reactions when you’re reminded of the trauma (or sometimes for no obvious reason at all)
- Intrusive thoughts about combat, death, or killing
- Feeling disconnected or isolated, as if you’re “not yourself”
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Feeling agitated, tense, on edge, or easily startled
- Bursts of anger or irritation
- Problems concentrating
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
They say PTSD isn't always something that has happened to you, but may be triggered by something that happened to someone close to you or it's something you witnessed.
In terms of what you can do to care for yourself following a traumatic event, Dr. Raisinghani says one of the most important things is to not isolate yourself for a long period of time.
She suggests reaching out to people, whether that's family or friends just to process what happened.
Journaling is also a technique that helps, as it can help you process the trauma.
Even just listening to one's body needs can be beneficial.
"If you're tired getting sleep, eating healthy, getting some exercise, joining support groups or reaching out to someone who's previously been in a similar situation for additional support or guidance that seems to suffice for most people," she explained.
If things are getting more severe however, she says it's important to recognize and not to hesitate to reach out for professional help.
"If these [symptoms] persist, even after say four to five weeks of a traumatic event, and they're starting to interfere significantly with our previous level of functioning, taking care of ourselves, being able to go to work or school or interfering with one's relationships, I think that might be an indication that now it's time to get some professional help," she detailed.
The important thing to recognize when it comes to dealing with trauma as well as post-traumatic stress disorder is that it is more common than you think.
According to Dr. Raisinghani, one in nine or ten women and one in 20 men may experience PTSD at some point in their life.
"It's very much treatable and people can go on to have better qualities of life for themselves and better relationships, if they get help at the right time," she explained. "I would encourage people to do that if they've unfortunately experienced severe trauma in their lives and they're struggling."
If you're currently struggling to cope and are in need of help, here are resources to assist.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Project Atlas
- Medline Plus
- GLBT National Help Center
- Military Pathways
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Baltimore City also has a trauma-informed care task force. For more information, click here.