Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that is triggered by a shocking, terrifying, or scary event. We often associate PTSD with war, sexual or physical assault, or a serious accident. Research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder can also occur with cancer survivors — especially since you’re dealing with a life-threatening medical diagnosis.
This is particularly true of childhood cancer survivors, survivors of aggressive cancers and cancers that require intense treatments.
Some of the symptoms and emotions of PTSD include:
- Problems sleeping because of intrusive dreams or flashbacks of trauma
- Feeling hopeless
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Irritability and anger
- Self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking too much or taking unusual risks
- Uncontrolled sadness and crying spells
- Hearing or seeing things that are not there
It’s normal to have some of these symptoms as a cancer survivor. However, if you’re having disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
Some types of therapy used in PTSD treatment include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy — this helps you recognize the thought patters triggering anxiety and symptoms. Recommendations for strategies to help modify these thoughts are part of this therapy.
- Psychotherapy — this may include group discussions or individual counseling to work through symptoms and emotions. It can also be helpful to talk to others who are going through similar experiences.
- Medications — (anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety) — this is usually a short-term strategy to deal with extreme depression or anxiety.
- Support groups — can help with emotional aspects of cancer. Sharing in a safe place with other people who have similar experiences can help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.
Treatment for PTSD can help you regain a sense of control over your life. With successful treatment, you can also feel better about yourself and learn ways to cope if symptoms return. These strategies can help provide skills to cope better with the traumatic event — and move beyond it.
What’s been your experience? Share your thoughts here or head over to this discussion on the topic.