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What Is Secondary PTSD?

What Is Secondary PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a mental health disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Secondary PTSD, also known as vicarious trauma, secondhand trauma, secondary trauma, and PTSD by proxy, is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the first-hand trauma experience of another person (e.g., family member, close friend, neighbor, stranger on the news, etc.). The difference between PTSD and secondary trauma is that secondary PTSD occurs after an indirect exposure to threatening events while PTSD occurs due to a perceived direct threat to an individual. Akin to PTSD, the symptoms of secondary trauma can be difficult to manage without proper guidance.

Who Is At Risk?

Some people are more susceptible to secondary trauma than others. Common risk factors that increase one’s propensity for developing secondary PTSD include, but are not limited to the following, provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN):

  • Mental health complications prior to hearing about the trauma
  • Greater geographical proximity to the event
  • Gender: females are at increased risk
  • Lacking social support networks
  • Acquaintance with those involved in the trauma
  • Emotional dysregulation 

It is important to note that not all individuals exposed to one or more of the above risk factors will inevitably go on to develop secondary trauma. 

Signs and Symptoms

There are many possible signs and symptoms that could manifest because of secondary PTSD. Some examples could include, but are not limited to, any combination of the following, provided by the Boston Children’s Hospital:

  • Fear
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Physical ailments
  • Agitation
  • Depression 
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Regressions
  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Irregular sleep
  • Difficulty with physical contact
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Constant feelings of fear and worry
  • Experiencing crying spells
  • Tense muscles
  • Social anxiety

Additional symptoms, according to American Academy of Pediatrics may include “hypervigilance, avoidance, re-experiencing…and an impaired immune system.” The signs and symptoms associated with secondary PTSD typically mimic those that present with post-traumatic stress disorder. Much like with PTSD, often the symptoms of secondary trauma interfere with one’s ability to function in his or her daily life. 

Secondary PTSD Treatment

There are many treatment options for an individual struggling with secondary PTSD. An individual with secondary trauma will likely require a customized treatment plan that may include a variety of treatment modalities. The main types of psychotherapy that are commonly used to treat secondary trauma include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), expressive arts therapy, and talk therapy. Guidance from a qualified mental health provider can help provide an individual suffering from secondary PTSD with the much-needed support in cultivating effective coping strategies and learning applicable skills to aid in the recovery process. 

Disclaimer:

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

BPD And PTSD: Are They Often Confused?

BPD And PTSD: Are They Often Confused?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) defines borderline personality disorder as an “illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior.” These patterns will often result in reckless and hasty actions, negatively affecting one’s relationships. The term “borderline” was initially coined because psychiatrists believed that its symptoms hovered on the border between psychosis and neurosis. The symptoms associated with borderline personality disorder can pervasively interfere with an individual’s ability to function optimally in his or her daily life. Common symptoms of borderline personality disorder can include any combination of the following examples, provided by the Mayo Clinic

  • Ongoing feelings of emptiness
  • Risky behavior (e.g., gambling, having unsafe sex, etc.)
  • Intense fear of being alone or abandoned
  • Fragile self-image
  • Unstable relationships
  • Erratic moods
  • Frequent displays of intense anger
  • Stress-related, fleeting paranoia
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Threats of self-injury

It is not uncommon for people with BPD to feel extremely intense emotions for extended periods of time. This makes returning to a stable emotional baseline far more challenging, especially after experiencing an emotionally triggering event. 

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder as defined by the Mayo Clinic “is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it.” PTSD is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a diagnosable mental health condition and is listed under the new category called Trauma- and Stressor- Related Disorders. PTSD can occur when an individual has experienced severe stress or anxiety after being exposed to a traumatic event. The most widespread symptoms associated with PTSD could include any combination of the following examples, provided by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Agitation
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Regressions
  • Flashbacks to the event
  • Irritability
  • Irregular sleep
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Difficulty with physical contact
  • Depression 
  • Severe anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Constant feelings of fear and worry
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Experiencing crying spells
  • Tense muscles
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Exhaustion
  • Risky behavior
  • Social anxiety

The symptoms of PTSD can be incredibly distressing. Every individual who suffers from PTSD will have his or her own set of unique symptoms. Although borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two distinct mental health ailments with different characteristics they are often confused. This is primarily because they share a remarkably similar list of symptoms and triggers. While there is significant overlap in symptoms, the difference between BPD ad PTSD is that the symptoms of PTSD are provoked by external triggers and the symptoms of BPD stem from an inconsistent self-concept

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.