ptsd trauma chicago

Trauma, Abuse and PTSD Chicago

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a specific type of anxiety disorder that is commonly brought about by a person either experiencing or witnessing some sort of trauma or traumatic event. This includes various forms of abuse. Trauma in fact is one of the major reasons people in Chicago seek out counseling and therapy.

PTSD is often brought to the attention of the mainstream public through stories about war veterans who live through various traumas as part of their combat experience. While PTSD in veterans is definitely something to take seriously, it is not the only origin of the disorder. Other common PTSD triggers include

  • Child abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Being the victim of a violent crime, including mugging, torture, or rape
  • Being a witness to an act of terrorism or bombing
  • Being Kidnapped
  • Being in (or witnessing) a car accident, plane crash, or train wreck
  • Being personally affected by a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane

How Many People Have PTSD?

The current thinking is that around 7.7 million adults live with some form of PTSD but exact numbers are difficult to come by because of personal shame connected to this mental health issue. More women than men suffer from PTSD with a growing numbers among female African Americans.

Chicago may have a higher proportion of people living with various forms of trauma, including PTSD, because of its large population, ongoing crime issues and the city’s large population of military veterans. The state of Illinois has nearly 800,000 veterans, according to the United States Department of Veteran affairs.

Triggers vs. Causes, and Fears of PTSD

PTSD is characterized by the way a person responds to the natural “fight or flight” response that is typical of most people. Normally, this is a good reaction to have, because it helps people keep themselves out of harm’s way. A person with PTSD, however, may react with this type of fear even when there is no imminent danger.

Biology of PTSD

While the triggers for PTSD that are listed above may be the cause of the disorder in many cases, there is some evidence that suggests that there is a genetic element in play as well. Fear memories are formed with the help of a protein called Stathmin. In a study using mice, the mice that were not producing Stathamin did not respond to danger by freezing, which is the normal reaction.

Another biological component of PTSD is a signaling chemical in the brain called Gastrin Releasing Peptide (GRP). More GRP seems to help control a mouse’s response to fear. Deficiencies of this chemical is believed to make memories of fear more intense and last longer. In humans, researchers have found that there is a version of a specific gene that affects serotonin levels which effect mood and a person’s response to fear.

When traumatic events happen early in childhood, it can affect how the brain is formed, particularly in the prefrontal cortex- the area of the brain involved in decision making and problem solving. Environmental Factors such as head injuries, trauma, and a history of mental illness can make a person more vulnerable to developing PTSD.

chicago trauma therapy

Trauma Doesn’t Always Mean PTSD

Fortunately, PTSD is not always present alongside a trauma. Developing a positive outlook and having social support safeguards many when it comes to developing the disorder. Research continues in this area, and there is hope that it will one day become easier to identify who is most susceptible to PTSD so that those people can get the guidance they need for possible prevention.

Diagnosing and Treating PTSD

PTSD takes time to diagnose, and normally requires a thorough psychological evaluation that will look at symptoms and potential causes of the disorder. The American Psychiatric Association publishes a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is this manual that guides a diagnosis and helps to justify insurance coverage for treatment of various mental health conditions, including PTSD and other forms of trauma.

DSM lists several criteria that start with having experienced one or more of the trigger events mentioned, but it goes further and looks at how the patient reacts to the event and to the world since that event occurred. Reliving the traumatic event, having upsetting dreams or flashbacks, or experiencing emotional or physical distress when reminded of the events are all signs of PTSD.

PTSD patients may also experience blackouts of some details of the event, have a poor self-image, may feel emotionally numb or prone to angry outbursts and/or destructive behavior. They may also feel as if they are always on guard, may startle easily, and have trouble concentrating or sleeping. Having these symptoms makes it difficult for a person with PTSD to experience normal daily life in the way that they should.

addiction treatment chicago

Substance Abuse and Addiction

And it is worth noting that some people who are trying to cope with PTSD may try to self-medicate emotional pain through the use of substances – such as alcohol or drugs.

Over time, this can lead to addiction dependency. Others may engage in ritualistic, behavioral activities that can include an addiction to sex or food. The keywords to focus on here are “coping” and “ritualistic”

PTSD Therapy

There are several approaches a therapist may take in treating PTSD, including cognitive therapy or talk therapy that helps the therapist understand negative or inaccurate patterns of thinking in regards to normal situations. Exposure therapy is another component that is designed to help a patient face their fears.

Some therapy also includes a desensitizing technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This therapy guides eye movements and changes the way a patient processes and reacts to traumatic memories.

Many people who live with PTSD and other forms of trauma suffer from accompanying disorders. These can include forms of depression, social phobias and various forms of generalized anxiety disorder.


Various medications are commonly prescribed along with therapy in order to help patients cope with PTSD symptoms. These include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) medications, examples include Zoloft and Paxil. Anti-anxiety and depression medications may be prescribed as well, but there is some concern of abuse, so these prescriptions are normally monitored closely.

Another medication, Prazosin, isn’t specifically approved for PTSD, but is sometimes prescribed if nightmares are a problem, since the medication is designed to suppress them.

PTSD/Trauma Video

We have included a video below produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs that gives a quick overview of PTSD causes and treatments.

Celebrities That May Have Experienced PTSD

Unfortunately PTSD is not always diagnosed, even when the person suffering has the financial resources to be treated. When this happens, it is not uncommon for the person to attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs and may be more prone to becoming addicted to these substances.

It’s estimated that more than 2% of the population suffers from PTSD, which amounts to nearly 8 million people. Women experience the disorder more frequently than men, and it is estimated that 10% will develop the disorder sometime in their life, while 5% of men will get PTSD.

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experience this much more often, but many do not seek treatment.

trauma chicago

PTSD is a relatively recent diagnosis, so absolute confirmed cases are hard to come by, but many celebrities had symptoms of the disorder, including a WWII combat soldier, Audie Murphy who went on to an acting career spanning more than 2 decades. Murphy abused sleeping pills and slept with a loaded gun under his pillow.

Some also believe that the singer Michael Jackson may have had PTSD, since much of the abuse in his childhood household has become highly documented and may have been a factor in his drug use.

The actor/comedian Darrell Hammond is one celebrity that does have a confirmed diagnosis of PTSD due to being abused as a child. Before his diagnosis Hammond turned to drugs and alcohol, and would even harm himself. Other celebrities have used substances to cope with mental health issues so be sure to read our post.

FYI: With treatment, Hammond has been able to stay sober and urges those who are suffering to seek help themselves.

PTSD and Trauma Book

If you are looking for insight into trauma and PTSD, an excellent book to pick up is The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Van Der Kolk. Inside, you will page after page of useful material that is designed to educate and heal.

Final Thoughts

If you or a person you love has experienced some form of trauma, please know there is nothing to be ashamed about. Trauma, including PTSD, is a common mental health challenge and is experienced by many people around the world – including folks right here in Chicago.

The good news is that treatment options are available, including talk-therapy. We hope you found the information and material listed here useful. Thank you for visiting the Chicago therapist website of 2nd Story Counseling! Please Like us on Facebook, Circle us on Google+ and share on Twitter!