5 Signs a College Student Might be Suffering from PTSD
It is devastatingly common for college students to be exposed to a traumatic event and develop PTSD. In fact, an article I read recently stated that 10% of college students met the criteria for PTSD. What?!? That statistic makes me sick. I shouldn’t be as shocked as I feel. I hear the stories day in and day out. They also found that PTSD, “was most common among people exposed to a sexual or physical assault.” This certainly didn’t surprise me, because those are the issues that most commonly bring college students into my office.
Maybe you have a friend, a son, a daughter or a sorority sister who was assaulted and you’re starting to worry about their healing process. You’ve noticed they’re acting differently. You’re starting to wonder if they need more help finding healing and peace. Here are 5 things I assess for when someone comes into my office after a traumatic experience.
One common thread for individuals who develop PTSD is that they re-experience the trauma over and over again. This may come in the form of nightmares, thinking about the traumatic experience at random times or “flashbacks” where they feel like the trauma is happening all over again. From the outside, it may look like someone is just “zoning out” or it may be more noticeable where they experience a full on panic attack after being exposed to something that reminds them of the trauma.
Avoidance is both a symptom of PTSD and helps maintain PTSD. When the body and mind has experienced something overwhelming, it begins to try to protect itself. A person may start to avoid things that remind them of the traumatic experience. A college student may avoid the frat house where they were raped. Another student may begin to avoid anyone of the opposite gender to avoid those reminds. Still other individuals will avoid negative emotions for fear that the emotion will become overwhelming. Frequently, this even means avoiding thoughts. It’s very common that a client tells me they’ve spent months trying to give themselves pep talks and telling themselves simply to not think about the trauma. The avoidance may even work for a period of time.
Negative Mood and/or Negative Thoughts of Self
Someone with PTSD may look like they are simply depressed. They may also adopt new, unhealthy beliefs about themselves or the world around them as they try to wrap their minds around what happened. Sometimes, people can’t remember even key parts of the trauma or they may focus in on one specific detail from the experience. Someone with PTSD may start to feel disconnected from others even feeling alone in a room full of people. It’s very common that they blame themselves or someone unrelated to the trauma for the event. A belief like, “the world isn’t safe,” or “I deserved the rape,” can have a significant impact on how a person acts. Counseling can help them begin to think about the trauma in a healthier way.
High Level of Emotional Reactivity
It is very common for someone who has experienced something traumatic like a rape, sexual assault, physical assault, etc. to notice that their body has difficult calming down. The person may be more irritable or even begin acting aggressively. This could also look like self-destructive or risk taking behavior. Hypervigilance where the individual “over reacts” to even small reminders of the trauma (i.e. spotting someone with the same hair color, a hug from a family member, etc) is very common. The individual may startle very easily. Difficulty focusing and problems sleeping (particularly nightmares or staying up very late) are also two very common PTSD symptoms I see in clients.
Impact on School, Family life, Work Friendships or Other Areas of Life
As PTSD develops, you may start to notice that multiple areas of a person’s life are impacted. In college students, I often hear that it becomes harder and harder to make it to class or their part time job. Even if they do go to class, their grades may drop because they can’t focus. A college student may begin to withdraw from their friends. If you are that friend, please know that they aren’t withdrawing from you personally-it is a symptom of the PTSD that they feel disconnected. Family may either here from the college student less or more (they suddenly come home every weekend). The young adult may turn to church and their faith more trying to make sense of what’s going on or may become angry that God let this happen and instead turn away from their belief system.
When to Suggest Counseling
If you’ve observed several of the above signs in your loved one, it may be time to see counseling. The great news is that trauma treatment is effective! We have several very effective therapeutic interventions that can help a person begin to heal and find peace of a traumatic experience. If the student you are concerned about attends the University of Missouri, William Woods, Stephen’s College, Moberly Area Community College or lives anywhere that would allow them to regularly attend counseling in Columbia, MO I would highly recommend that you contact Aspire Counseling to speak to one of our skilled trauma therapists about how counseling can help speed up your loved one’s recovery. They don’t have to stay stuck. It’s possible for them to feel like themselves again.
Jessica is a therapist in and the founder of Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She specializes in helping teens, college students & adults who feel stuck in the past and held back by the negative experiences they’ve endured. I have several very skilled therapists that I work with who also believe in your power to find healing from their past and reclaim your life. If you would like to speak to us about how counseling might help you move beyond surviving and toward thriving, please contact Aspire Counseling by e-mail or by calling 573-328-2288. You don’t have to stay stuck. Healing starts here.