Depression and PTSD

Does Depression Make PTSD Worse?

Depression and PTSD

70% of U.S. adults will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. While the majority of adults will be able to move on from the event, up to 20% of adults will continue to suffer from flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and fear of the event happening again. Depending on the severity of symptoms, these individuals may be experiencing PTSD. It is estimated that up to 5% of U.S. adults will be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lives. But why do some people get PTSD after a traumatic event, and others do not? Sometimes, comorbid mental health disorders such as depression are to blame.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a type of anxiety disorder, and a traumatic event or several events can trigger it. When reminded of the traumatic event or series of events, a person will experience symptoms similar to those seen in a panic attack. Even when a person with PTSD does not have a panic attack, they can suffer other symptoms as well. Some of the most common PTSD symptoms include the following:

  • Panic attacks and anxiety when reminded of the event
  • Intrusive thoughts of the event
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Increased headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased startle response
  • Outbursts and aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Guilt and shame
  • Avoiding places, people, or things that remind them of the event
  • Increased vigilance
  • Numbness, and hopelessness about the future
  • Feeling detached
  • Lack of enjoyment of usual activities
  • Issues with memory
  • Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol

The symptoms of PTSD can vary significantly throughout a person’s life, which is especially true if a person does not get medical treatment for the disorder. If a person is under a lot of stress, they may find increased severity of symptoms. Reminders of the event might be incredibly painful and distressing during times of stress.

What are the risk factors for getting PTSD?

People can get PTSD after a single event, or after repeated exposure to adverse situations. Certain risk factors can make some people more susceptible to developing PTSD, including the number of times they experience trauma, their genetics, and environment. A person can get PTSD either from first-hand experience of trauma, if they learn about an event that involves a death, or if their life is threatened. They can also get it if they experience a severe injury or violation, including assault or rape. Clinicians are not 100% sure why some people get PTSD and others who suffer trauma do not. But there are a few known risk factors.

  • Having a family or personal history of depression and anxiety disorders
  • Repeated exposure to trauma, especially as a child
  • Certain inherent temperament traits, such as being a naturally nervous or anxious person
  • Having brain chemistry that makes a flight or fight response more pronounced
  • Experiencing intense and long-lasting trauma
  • Having a job that increases the chances of being exposed to traumatic events
  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Not having a healthy support system

People of all ages, genders, and demographic groups can get PTSD, but some may be more susceptible to the condition than others, especially if they have any of the above characteristics and risk factors.

What types of traumatic events are the most likely to result in PTSD?

It is a myth that only military and combat veterans can get PTSD. Anyone who experiences trauma, abuse, or a life-threatening situation can develop the condition.

  • Childhood abuse
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Physical attack
  • Exposure to combat
  • Accidents
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Experiencing a natural disaster

Other traumatic events can cause PTSD, including being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or witnessing someone else being harmed or dying. It is also a myth that a person can only get PTSD if they are personally threatened. Seeing violence toward another or having a child or spouse diagnosed with a life-threatening condition can cause PTSD.

How are depression and PTSD linked?

Many of the symptoms that are present in PTSD are similar to depression. Research has also found that people with a personal or a family history of depression are at higher risk of getting PTSD after a traumatic event. About half of all people diagnosed with PTSD also meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.

Current research is not entirely sure why this happens, but there are two possible explanations for why comorbidity between depression and PTSD is so prevalent. For one thing, the way symptoms overlap can make it difficult for clinicians to classify the symptoms of either condition into separate categories. On the other hand, some researchers speculate that the type of depression sym[toms that PTSD patients often manifest is an entirely new subtype of major clinical depression.

How are these two conditions treated?

Both conditions can be successfully treated with a combination of therapy and medications. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications can alleviate the symptoms of depression which overlap with PTSD.

PTSD is often treated with specific types of therapy, most notably cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. During a CBT session, a therapist bases the treatment around the trauma that has triggered or contributed to a person’s symptoms. The therapy will help the patient identify, understand, and change their thinking and behavior patterns. CBT is focused on helping to alleviate symptoms and give the patient the tools they need to prevent avoidant behavior.

CBT treatments for PTSD tend to occur once per week, for up to 16 weeks. However, the most effective treatment for both PTSD and depression will be tailored to the individual. Some patients will need therapy for longer, while others will make marked improvements in less time. Transcranial magnetic stimulation techniques are also highly effective for alleviating the symptoms of medication-resistant depression and PTSD.

There is no cure for either PTSD or depression, and both are chronic health conditions. As such, they require ongoing care and maintenance to prevent symptom recurrence and relapse. Although these conditions are serious and lifelong, they can be successfully treated, and patients can go on to live a life free from the distressing symptoms of either disorder. If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, please contact the experienced clinicians at Pulse TMS today to explore your treatment options.