June 16, 2016 by Castlewood Treatment Center in Co-occuring Disorders, Eating Disorder Treatment Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, is an ongoing healthcare crisis, a condition that affects Americans of all ages and walks of life. At the same time, it’s something that is widely misunderstood. Many are not quite sure of what the condition is, whom it affects or how pervasive it truly is. That’s why June 27 has been set aside as National PTSD Awareness Day—a time for us to talk more openly and candidly about what the condition is and what it really means.
This is something that is near and dear to our hearts at Castlewood. The reason for this is simple: Many of our own clients struggle with traumatic memories and with PTSD in particular. The link between PTSD and eating disorders is strong, and understanding it is key for properly treating those who battle these co-occurring conditions.
What is PTSD?
Put most simply, PTSD is a disorder that an individual might develop in the aftermath of a shocking, scary, or dangerous situation—a situation that is harrowing and leaves the individual feeling helpless. Sometimes the symptoms of PTSD might develop immediately following the traumatic event—but in other cases those symptoms don’t develop for months or even years following the episode.
Of course, everyone who goes through something like that may have feelings of anxiety or fear. The symptoms of PTSD are intrusive and at times debilitating, and might include vivid flashbacks, bad dreams or recurring, terrifying thoughts. The person with PTSD might also struggle with feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, or emotional numbness.
PTSD is most often associated with those who have experienced combat, but it can actually be triggered by any number of traumatic occurrences—including physical or emotional abuse. Additionally, note that PTSD quite commonly comes with other, co-occurring disorders—including substance abuse and, yes, eating disorders.
PTSD and Eating Disorders
People cope with trauma in different ways. In some instances, addiction is a kind of self-medication; people with PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol to soothe their symptoms, and this spirals into a real substance use problem. In other instances, an eating disorder develops as a kind of coping mechanism—a way to exert control amidst feelings of powerlessness.
PTSD is a common trigger for eating disorders, so if you know someone who is struggling with trauma, it’s important that you be alert to some of the warning signs that an eating disorder is developing. Also be prepared to offer compassionate support however you can. A few general tips for doing so include:
Speak up. If you’re worried about a friend or loved one, don’t keep it to yourself. Let them know it. Tell them you love them and are worried, and encourage them to seek treatment. Pledge to support them throughout the process.
Don’t be accusatory. What your loved one needs is friendship and empathy—not judgment. Keep your conversations rooted in relationships and feelings, not in accusations.
Don’t try to “fix” anyone. That’s not your job. Your job is to offer your concern and your support, and to be there to listen and to help as needed.
Encourage treatment. Ultimately, both PTSD and eating disorders are serious medical conditions—and they can even be life-threatening. These are not conditions that will just go away on their own. Intervention is needed. Make sure you urge your friend or loved one to seek help from a center like Castlewood.
Understanding the link between PTSD and eating disorders is key for helping those in need—and, for raising awareness, now and throughout the year.
Do you have a PTSD story? Share it with us, if you can.