Mexico has been hit by two powerful earthquakes in less than a month, causing high amounts of stress among the population in the country’s west coast and central region, which were hit hardest. All this stress could lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is to be expected after a natural disaster. According to a study published in medical journal Epidemiologic Reviews, PTSD manifests in about 5-10 percent of the general population affected by a natural disaster, with 10-20 percent prevalence among rescue workers and 30-40 percent among those directly affected.
PTSD, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), is “an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events.” Such events include experiencing or even witnessing serious injury, deadly danger or sexual violence. It can also be caused by a personal or family history of mental problems, chemical imbalances in the brain or even by a person’s temperament.
PTSD is way more than a mild annoyance or inconvenience. It can make it difficult to go through day-to-day activities to the point of impairing a person’s work, relationships and social life. Anxiety and depression can stem from it too, as well as eating disorders, drug abuse and even suicidal thoughts.
Considering that both earthquakes remain fresh in memory and that their aftermath is still visible throughout the landscape, you should be on the lookout for signs of PTSD in yourself or in others. What follows is a listing of symptoms, possible treatments and recommendations by the APA, Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Overall, there are four kinds of PTSD symptoms: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in mood/thinking and changes in physical/emotional reactions.
Intrusive memories are recurring, unwanted memories of the distressing event. These might make themselves present through flashbacks, nightmares or emotional distress in presence of someone or something that reminds the individual of the traumatic event.
Avoidance refers to the deliberate avoiding of thoughts, conversations, actions or persons that bring the event back to memory.
Negative changes in mood and thinking involve detachment from loved ones, self-loathing, shame, guilt, negative thoughts about others, emotional numbness, lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed, difficulty experiencing positive emotions and having a hard time remembering details of the traumatic event.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions involve being easily startled or frightened, insomnia, having trouble concentrating, irritability, anger and being constantly on guard.
Children six-years-old and younger might manifest their PTSD through other means, like re-enacting the traumatic event through play or in nightmares.
The window for PTSD symptoms to manifest themselves is usually around a month after the event in question, though it might also take years.
It’s not always easy identifying symptoms and diagnosing treatment. If disturbing thoughts continue for more than a month, you should consider talking to a therapist. You should also seek help if you feel like you’ve lost a grip on your life and can’t go on with it normally.
There are two ways to treat PTSD: psychotherapy and medication. Usually one is enough to handle it, but sometimes both are needed. If you’re not sure about which might work better, give APA’s recommendations a read.
The APA cites studies saying that treatments last an average of 15 of 20 sessions, though some 12-16 weekly session treatments have also shown to be successful. Nevertheless, length of treatment varies according to each case. Therapy should keep going until goals set by patient and therapist are met, but keep in mind that such goals might be revised at some point. Length of treatment should be discussed widely by both parties involved.
You might want to try alternative approaches to treatment such as acupuncture and pet therapy.
Though therapy and medication should help, you can take some precautions to make your healing process better. Follow your treatment plan closely. Do not self-medicate. Eat and sleep well, exercise and take time to relax; you’ll get better if you help yourself feel better. Read up on PTSD to understand your situation better; doing so might bring you a stronger sense of control. Stay in tune with close friends, relative, spiritual guides and anyone who cares for you or might be of any help. Also, contacting a support group might be a good idea.
ABC Medical Center has opened a telephone line (55-13-53-45-7) for victims in need of psychological support. You can either call or go to the hospitals themselves; there’s one in Observatorio and another one in Santa Fe. Help is cost-free. The Mexican Psychoanalytic Association has also opened a line for free support: 55-96-00-09 ext. 1.