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PTSD and Self-Harm: A Dangerous Connection

Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. Examples of traumatic events can include a natural disaster, war, accident, sexual violence, or similar event. To be sure, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of adults in this country each year. Individuals who have PTSD experience intense feelings that are related to the past. This lasts beyond the traumatic event. Many people that suffer from PTSD don’t know how to properly cope. As a result, PTSD and self-harm unfortunately often go hand and hand.

Often, a person with PTSD experiences nightmares or flashbacks that bring feelings of anger, fear, or sadness. It is these emotions that often drive people with PTSD to start self-harming themselves.

In order to deal with the negative emotions and coping mechanisms that arise due to PTSD, people should receive professional PTSD treatment. At Montare Behavioral Health, we provide comprehensive and sophisticated treatment for mental health disorders such as PTSD to all of our residents.

Forms of PTSD

PTSD can be experienced by anyone. However, there are many different cases of PTSD and thus, many different PTSD forms. Scientists have started to identify five PTSD forms that require various kinds of treatments.

  • Normal Stress Response. Normal stress response happens before the onset of PTSD. However, people that experience normal stress responses don’t always end up with the complete PTSD disorder. An accident, injury, sickness, or anything that brings a level of tension can cause a normal stress response. Individuals with this type of PTSD may find help from therapy sessions or the support of loved ones.
  • Acute Stress Disorder. Acute stress disorder (ASD) is not the same as PTSD. However, ASD occurs in people who have been exposed to traumatic events. For example, losing a loved one or losing a job may bring a person stress that triggers the development of ASD. If untreated, ASD may lead to PTSD. Psychiatric treatment and medication may control ASD.
  • Uncomplicated PTSD. Another one of the PTSD forms is uncomplicated PTSD. This is associated with a major traumatic event. Luckily, it is easy to treat. To explain, a person with this form of PTSD experiences nightmares, mood changes, and irritability. Indeed, taking medicine is a successful way to get through this PTSD form.

More Forms of PTSD

  • Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD is brought on by a series of traumatic events. As a result, complex PTSD is common in people who have experienced ongoing trauma in the form of domestic abuse or war. People that suffer from complex PTSD tend to be impulsive, aggressive, and sexually uninhibited. People that suffer from complex PTSD also tend to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Comorbid PTSD. Comorbid PTSD is one of the most blanketed PTSD forms. People that suffer from comorbid PTSD tend to suffer from co-occurring disorders. Individuals that suffer from this PTSD form tend to use destructive behaviors to cope.

What is the Relationship Between PTSD and Self Harm?

Indeed, it is important to understand the relationship between PTSD and self-harm. Self-harm is a common reaction to trauma. For example, sexual abuse is often a trigger for the development of PTSD and self-harm. 

Deliberate self-harming behavior like PTSD cutting is a way that an individual expresses and manages negative emotions, including anxiety, shame, and anger. Also, self-harm provides a temporary escape from emotional turmoil. Even though it brings slight momentary relief, emotions intensify later.

Individuals who suffer from PTSD and self-harm may self-harm themselves as a “grounding” activity. In other words, people that suffer from PTSD may self-harm themselves to get back in touch with the present moment. For example, people may conduct PTSD cutting after a flashback episode of their trauma so that they can shock their bodies back into the here and now.

Manifestations of PTSD

There are many ways that people who conduct PTSD and self-harm may behave. Ultimately, people who conduct PTSD and self-harm are trying to exchange their emotional pain for physical pain. They may do this by:

  • Biting
  • Headbanging
  • Cutting oneself
  • Burning oneself
  • Severe scratching

Many people who perform these self-harming acts hide the results of them. Therefore, it is difficult to identify people with these problems. The biggest danger of self-harm is that people may raise the intensity of their abuse while self-harming themselves, which can lead to permanent bodily damage.

Treatments for PTSD and Self Harm

In general, there are a few effective ways to treat PTSD and self-harm. One effective way to treat PTSD and self-harm is through therapy. Therapy for PTSD and self-harm is meant to improve PTSD symptoms, teach healthy coping skills, and restore self-esteem.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

With this type of therapy, a person concentrates on a past traumatic event while he or she watches or listens to something else. In this manner, the person is left with a positive or neutral memory when he or she thinks about that past trauma.


People with PTSD process threats differently. In other words, these individuals have a heightened “fight or flight” response. Medication may help a person to stop dwelling on the negative event. Medications that balance neurotransmitters in the brain are effective means of PTSD treatment. For example, Paxil and Zoloft are two name-brand medications that are approved by the FDA to treat PTSD symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches individuals skills that change their negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors into more positive ones. In particular, dialectical behavior therapy is very effective as a treatment of PTSD. To clarify, it addresses and alters negative thoughts and behaviors through mindfulness and emotional regulation.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy is very effective as a treatment of PTSD. DBT causes people to first accept their negative thoughts and emotions. That way they can then alter them through mindfulness and emotional regulation and ultimately change their negative behaviors into positive ones.

In particular, DBT aims to improve the way that a person emotionally manages the problems and behaviors that result from PTSD or any other physical or mental disorder. DBT therapists teach the following four skills.

  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Distress tolerance skills
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Mindfulness meditation skills

How DBT is Useful for PTSD and Self Harm

The skills taught in DBT bring great benefits to people who suffer from PTSD. A group of researchers at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany treated females with PTSD using a combination of DBT and traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. After three months, such researchers uncovered that the treatment significantly lowered the women’s PTSD symptoms. This is especially true when it came to the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Over time, women that suffered from PTSD and regularly received CBT or DBT kept having lower PTSD symptoms. More research is needed to explore how well DBT compares to other treatments for PTSD. However, DBT is considered safe for both residential and outpatient therapy patients.

How Montare Behavioral Health Treats Individuals with PTSD

At Montare, we offer a variety of mental health treatments. For example, we use DBT to help treat people with PTSD. In fact, we use DBT to help people in group and individual sessions and through phone coaching. 

Specifically, set goals give mental health treatment patients things to look forward to in the long term. Thus, through emotional regulation and mindfulness, mental health disorder patients are taught ways to handle triggers that lead to negative behaviors like PTSD cutting and similar forms of self-harm.

Montare Treatment Programs for Mental Illness

Mental illness controls all aspects of a person’s life. Thus, if mental illness is left untreated, an individual may experience fatal consequences. Since no two people suffer from the same issues, Montare’s California facility provides different treatment programs for different mental health issues.

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment is recommended for individuals with severe problems. Individuals that receive inpatient treatment live at rehab facilities 24/7. They also receive intensive treatment that includes medication management and various therapies. The main goal of inpatient programs is to return independence to patients.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is ideal for individuals who have responsibilities that do not allow for constant care. This form of treatment is not as strictly supervised. However, adequate support and guidance are provided through recovery programs. In detail, the most common outpatient treatment options include intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization, and sober living.

Mental Health Treatment

Seniors suffer from unique challenges regarding mental health treatment. For example, seniors often struggle with cognitive impairments, anxiety, and mood disorders.

It is necessary to learn how to live with changes that are occurring in the brain. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 percent of seniors experience some type of mental illness. Therefore, mental health treatment for seniors is essential. Mental health treatment is also essential for people of all age groups.

Mental Health Treatment for Young Adults

Montare recognizes that young adults require specialized treatments for mental illness. In fact, 26 percent of young adults are diagnosed with a mental disorder. Unfortunately, few receive the necessary help. We here at Montare Behavioral Health provide a variety of therapies for young adults so that teens can learn how to deal with challenging situations and enjoy adult lives that bring positive experiences.

Mental Health Treatment for Women

Although both males and females experience mental problems, women are more likely to be affected with generalized anxiety and panic disorders. Also, they commonly suffer from eating disorders and postpartum issues. Our entire staff is trained and certified to offer therapy that targets the needs of women.

Mental Health Treatment for College Students

College campuses are filled with stressors that make students depressed and anxious. To emphasize, suicide rates are rising within this group of people. Student debt after graduation makes things even worse. Fortunately, most campuses offer counseling services to students at little cost. However, when severe problems exist, it is best to seek help from a facility like Montare.

Professional Programs

To be sure, it is often extremely difficult for a professional in a public working environment to seek treatment without negative stigma. At Montare, we understand the challenges that face professionals seeking mental health treatment. That’s why we offer complete privacy to our patients and provide treatments that help individuals thrive.

Here at Montare, we develop customized programs for each patient in our executive program so that treatment is as successful as possible. The entire staff at Montare is committed to helping patients achieve top mental health.

It is important to promote medical care and to offer necessary guidance so that people can live fulfilled lives. In fact, PTSD is just one condition that leads to self-harm. Therefore, it is essential to seek treatment. For more information, contact us today.