9 Things Professional Women Should Know About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
At a time when conversations around mental health are becoming more prevalent, particularly for women, it’s important not to leave PTSD out of the conversation.
Trigger Warning. This article contains content that may be triggering. It includes a discussion of alcoholism, PTSD, abuse, trauma, mental health, and sexual abuse.
The first time I saw any depiction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was in 2010 when the Tyler Perry movie “For Colored Girls” came out in theatres. If you haven’t watched the movie, there’s a scene in which an alcoholic war veteran who was experiencing PTSD, portrayed by Michael Ealy, dropped two small children from a third or fourth-story apartment window.
I couldn’t sleep that night. And despite the award-winning storyline and line-up of an all-star black cast, I couldn’t stomach re-watching the movie in fear of reliving the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach from that scene.
For a while, I took no action to look into PTSD any further than that movie. Back then, I was a young professional, and in my mind, there was no reason to do so because it seemed so far removed from my reality.
Until it wasn’t.
Years later, my timeline became ablaze with commentary about Gabrielle Union’s video for a Mental Health Awareness Month initiative entitled #MyYoungerSelf for Child Mind Institute. As a huge fan of hers, the admission took me aback. Not because of her disclosure about facing PTSD after a sexual assault, but more so because all of the sudden this once distant condition that I had only associated with a fictitious male veteran suddenly had a name that I knew, and a face that looked a lot like mine.
As my fellow millennials would say, “I was shook.”
To be transparent, Union wasn’t anyone I knew personally. But all of a sudden it begged the personal question(s) What else don’t I know about PTSD? How did she get it? How fast did she, or others take to heal from it?
A Google search quickly revealed the answers.
- Research from NAMI stated PTSD is More Likely in Women Than Men.
- Union experienced PTSD after being sexually assaulted at gunpoint while working at a Payless shoe store at 19.
- She shared in an interview that she experienced symptoms even decades after her traumatic event, and despite its presence in her life, that she wouldn’t allow it to define her.
“Often after experiencing a traumatic and life-threatening event our bodies continue to overproduce these stress hormones.,” said Shaina F. Gonzales, LCSW the founder of the Los Angeles-based company, Therapeutic Bridges. “This causes symptoms of PTSD to continue to linger even when there is no danger present,” Gonzales added.
June is PTSD awareness month. And given the mainstream commentary we’re seeing unfold around Naomi Osaka, and women’s mental health, I felt it was important not to leave PTSD out of the conversation. Furthermore, to offer information around the condition so the general public, especially professional women, know how others have braved their symptoms and/ or diagnosis.
Here are 9 Things Professional Women Should Know About PTSD.
- Some symptoms impact women more than men. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “While both men and women report the same symptoms of PTSD (hyperarousal, reexperiencing, avoidance, and numbing), some symptoms are more common for women or men.”
- It’s treatable. According to Mayo Clinic. Several types of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, may be used to treat adults with PTSD. Common PTSD therapies include:
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
Prolonged exposure therapy (PET)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
Medication Please note * Treatments are unique to each individual and their experience. Please consult with a medical professional to explore the options that are best for you.
- Women can be more sensitive to triggers. Melissa J. Pereau, MD, a medical director, and psychiatrist at Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center stated in a 2019 article, “Women are sometimes more sensitive to triggers that remind them of their trauma, and their symptoms may last longer.”
- Trauma-induced co-occurring alcoholism and psychopathology may be more common in women. According to Dual Diagnosis, “Since alcohol increases endorphin production, drinking after a traumatic event can be used to compensate for endorphin withdrawal and prevent the emotional pain that comes with it…Rebound endorphin withdrawal after a traumatic incident, on the other hand, may lead to symptoms of emotional distress as well as an increased urge to consume alcohol. The endorphin compensation theory proposes that people drink alcohol after a stressful event to compensate for their lack of endorphins. According to this theory, excessive alcohol consumption leads to a vicious loop in which more alcohol is required to avoid endorphin withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholism may develop as a result of long-term exposure to this addictive cycle. Trauma-induced co-occurring alcoholism and psychopathology may be more common in certain groups, such as women.”
- Books about PTSD offer advice you may not find online. Very Well Mind recently published this article entitled, “The 11 Best Books for PTSD of 2021, According to an Expert.” Check it out to see who made the list.
- You don’t have to disclose your PTSD symptoms or diagnosis. According to Matthew Tull, Ph.D., “You do not have to disclose your PTSD to anyone before you are ready. You are in control. You decide who to disclose your diagnosis to and when.” He also offered some additional tips for navigating if and how you want to share with others.
- Public figures, celebrities, and influencers have also suffered from PTSD. Aside from walking red carpets and posting for pictures, famous celebs like Barbara Streisand, Ariana Grande, Alanis Morissette, and Whoopi Goldberg are famous people who have been vocal about their experience with PTSD. Morissette gave an interview in which she stated she experienced PTSD upon the fame for her album Jagged Little Pill. She said, “It was an intense, constant, chronic overstimulation and invasion of energetic and physical literal space.” Now although most of us aren’t famous singers, having an online altercation, going viral, or even getting “canceled” may produce parallel experiences of massive exposure for professional women which could be triggering.
- Workplace toxicity isn’t always categorized as PTSD, and you should seek relief accordingly. Mental health professionals categorize traumas separately. There are Big T traumas and little T traumas. Big T traumas — such as rape, witnessing violence, domestic violence, etc. lead to PTSD. Little T traumas are any other traumatic experience we may experience as humans, such as a difficult break-up, a toxic work environment, being bullied, etc. The difference here is that Big T Traumas affect your physical safety or are life-threatening.
- PTSD occurs in Stages. There are four stages: Impact or emergency stage, Denial stage, Short-term recovery stage, and Long-term recovery stage. Understanding these can allow us to ask for help or offer help to others.
Even with these 9 insights, women should know that healing is possible, and help is available if and when you’re ready to ask. “It can be comforting to know that people can heal from most traumatic events with time and the support of the people who care about them,” said Patricia Alvarado, MA, LPCC, the Director of the Los Angeles-based practice Alvarado Therapy. “This, along with mental health support, can help those suffering from PTSD manage reactions to trauma and continue living with as much normalcy through the healing process.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD you can reach SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1–800–662-HELP.