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PTSD: It's Not All in Your Head



Priyanka Upadhyaya, Psy.D.
Our lives are stressful with various daily demands of living. But sometimes we have experiences that are frightening or dangerous, such as natural or man-made disasters, accidents, violence. These events are referred to as traumas and they can challenge our understanding of the world and our sense of safety. The ripple effects of trauma can impact you, your health and others in your life.
Having negative reactions to traumatic events is normal - people often have bad memories, sleep disturbance, difficulty functioning and irritability with others after a trauma. If the symptoms don't subside after about a month or two, it might be -
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, known commonly as PTSD, is a mental health problem that affects one's thoughts, feelings, and body and is one of the most common mental health conditions found in the World trade center member community.
It is twice more likely to occur in women than men and occurs in about 8-10% of the population in the United States.
It is a COMMON and TREATABLE condition that can impact ANYONE.
What does it feel like to have PTSD?
A) Re-Experiencing: "The movie keeps replaying"
  • Despite the event or threat having passed, involuntary, Intrusive memories, images, sensations return
  • almost like you may be re-living the event/experience.
  • Flashback
  • is the experience that the trauma is happening all over again.
  • Nightmares
  • Intense emotional upset that can last a long time when exposed to reminders of the trauma
  • Physical reactivity when exposed to reminders of the trauma.
B) Avoidance and numbing: "Can't remember - Can't Forget"
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma like places, people, situations, feelings, thoughts or anything related to the trauma
C) Increased arousal: "My body is on over-drive"
This includes symptoms such as:
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability, aggression, or angry outbursts
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Hyper-vigilance to one's environment - Always being on guard, scanning for danger.
  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Self-destructive or reckless behavior
D) Negative thoughts or feelings about oneself or the trauma
This can include:
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Excessive blame of oneself or others for contributing to, or causing the trauma
  • Ongoing negative emotional states - fear, sadness, anger, guilt.
  • Decreased interest in activities
  • Feeling distant from others - detached from others
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Sometimes, when people have PTSD they experience Dissociation as well - a lack of a feeling of connection to oneself that can manifest as either:
  • Depersonalization - feeling like a detached observer of oneself
  • Derealization Feeling like "things are surreal."
There are many resources available to learn more about PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, since there is a lot of overlap between these conditions, and they all can be post trauma stress reactions.
One of the other psychiatric conditions that can accompany PTSD is problems with alcohol and drugs. People sometimes use substances to help cope with the negative feelings and other unpleasant symptoms that can follow a traumatic event.
Remember - Not all those exposed to a traumatic event like 9/11 develop PTSD. For those who do, there are effective treatments that can be very helpful. It takes motivation, a desire for a better life and access to resources to feel better.
If you are interested in getting help for PTSD as related to your experience of 9/11, you can call Voices of September 11th at 203-966-3911 for more information on how an experienced mental health professional can help you. If you lived in the area or worked in the area, you can also call the WTC Health Program to see if you qualify for both medical and mental health services through the program.
It's never too late to get help. The suffering for you or your loved one, does not have to continue.
Priyanka Upadhyaya, PH.D.


Psychologist/Clinical Instructor
World Trade Center - Environmental Health Center NYU
Langone Medical Center-Bellevue Hospital
Dr. Priyanka Upadhyaya is a clinical psychologist at the World trade center environmental health center at Bellevue hospital which is one of three clinical centers of excellence dedicated to the integrated assessment and treatment of individuals who were present in the New York city disaster area.
Dr. Upadhyaya provides individual, group psychotherapy, mentors and supervises social workers and doctoral psychology students. She presents on various aspects of trauma informed care at case conferences and seminars, conducts community outreach workshops and in house staff training and education workshops. Dr. Upadhyaya is also part of initiatives to transmit health messages across the survivor and responder population through social media and online newsletters and participates in department wide research initiatives. Her interests and areas of expertise include evidenced based treatment of trauma, mindfulness and meditation, reducing barriers to mental healthcare, post traumatic growth and resilience.

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