From Northridge to Now: Seeking Help for PTSD

Triggered by earthquakes and traumas across 2019, Southern Californians are reaching out for help with PTSD from a shaky experience in the past.

It’s been 26 years since the Northridge earthquake struck Southern California, brining with it an emotional aftershock reminding many of past trauma. That was on January 17, 1994 at 4:31 a.m., when an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale hit L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. Apartment complexes crumbled, freeways buckled, gas mains exploded in flames, and more. The devastation was tremendous, with an estimated cost of over $20 billion in damages, and $49 billion in economic losses .

The horrific event took the lives of at least 57 people. Over 9,000 were injured. And today, many people are still feeling it, in ways that take them by surprise.

Invisible damage

At some point in their lives, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people in the U.S. will suffer from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) —an intense, upsetting psychiatric mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Whereas ASD (acute stress disorder) can be diagnosed within the first 30 days of a trauma, a diagnosis can’t be made until PTSD symptoms have lasted for at least that long. Many such diagnoses have been made: about 8 million adults in America will suffer from PTSD during any given year.

I’ve suffered from PTSD myself, sustained from events during my childhood, which didn’t help me much as someone growing up during the time of the Northridge earthquake. I was only eight years old, and living only two miles from the earthquake’s epicenter, when the world I knew violently shook itself. Why did I have to get dressed in such a hurry? Because an aftershock could happen any second, my father explained. And when an aftershock immediately rumbled through our house, like a jarring stage effect he cued with his words, the anxiety that ensued was one of many I couldn’t forget. I witnessed firsthand the physical destruction around me, our family didn’t have water or power for a week (we bathed in bottled water), and I felt the pressure of urgency suddenly assigned to normal, everyday tasks.

A truck passing, the quiver of a parking structure, any bass-heavy noise, the rattling of a window…so many normal, innocuous sensations of modern life triggered and terrified me for decades, well into my 20s, when I finally sought help for my disruptive, unprocessed memories with EMDR therapy.

The Aftershocks

After my holiday vacation, I returned to my office to find a flood of voicemail messages. People were seeking help with their PTSD symptoms, triggered by the recent Saugus High School Shooting and various other significant trauma events in 2019.

Earthquakes, like any jolt or shock, have the potential to unlock someone’s PTSD, even if the symptoms have lain dormant for years. Trauma sufferers are already primed for it; it only takes the right, and unfortunate, key to open a box of unwanted fears, flashbacks and reactions. As an example of post-earthquake PTSD, an object that normally brings joy, a framed picture of a loved one, suddenly becomes something to fear: a fragile pane of glass that can crash to the floor without warning, shattering loudly into sharp and dangerous shards.

Whether the recent quakes trigger recollections of the Northridge disaster or any other situation fraught with fear and helplessness, a PTSD sufferer should seek help as soon as possible rather than wait for the symptoms to subside. Earthquakes and other traumatic events don’t wait for preparation. Fortunately, there are ways to get help.

For the last three decades, millions of people have found healing from PTSD with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. By targeting key memories and working with a client’s thoughts, sensations and eye movements, EMDR treatment helps individuals empower their natural inclinations toward mental and emotional healing.

Will EMDR work for me? 

If you’re asking yourself “Will EMDR work for me?” know that several international associations and reviews have recognized EMDR therapy as an effective treatment for PTSD. And post-earthquake PTSD is something you want to deal with before another quake literally rocks your world…physically, mentally and emotionally.

Numerous randomized control trials have supported the use of EMDR for a wide range of trauma presentations. And I’ve shared in the past how EMDR changed my life , as the treatment that finally worked for me and my own PTSD. Now, I’m a certified professional who provides EMDR therapy and knows how EMDR works.

More than 25 years ago, EMDR was not as well known or widespread as it is today, but now we have an opportunity and ability to heal trauma that once seemed impossible. It’s never too late to get help with unresolved trauma and help is only a phone call away.

About Your Santa Clarita Therapist

Kristina de Bree is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in the state of California and an EMDRIA certified Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist and an EMDRIA approved Consultant with a private practice in Valencia. She is an expert in EMDR who works on helping individuals build, mend and develop healthy relationships and authentic connections with others and with themselves, and as a Valencia EMDR therapist, she is specially qualified to treat trauma, promote performance enhancement and address mental health concerns related to medical illness, right here in Santa Clarita. Kristina believes that the core of every working relationship should be built on trust, authenticity and quality. She brings a deep value and care for the patient experience, believing that change is made through relationships that are trusting, caring and safe.