What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as combat, assault, physical or sexual abuse, a natural disaster or some other form of trauma. PTSD has nothing to do with weakness or character flaws, and, whether the event is an actual threat of injury or death or merely a perceived threat, the results for the individual can be the same.

It is normal for anyone who has experienced a traumatic event to react with fear, shock, anger, anxiety and often guilt. For most people, while significant, these are temporary emotions that diminish and go away with time. When they continue and even increase, this is a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can negatively impact all areas of the individual’s life.

All age groups are susceptible to PTSD, including children, and it is estimated that close to 8 million people in the U.S. will experience this condition at some point in their lives. While PTSD resulting from combat is frequently in the news, which may make it seem that more men suffer from PTSD, women are actually more likely to develop it than men. This is largely due to women being the primary targets of domestic abuse, violence, and rape.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms, which must be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work, usually begin within 3 months of the incident but can take years to develop. They can change from one person to another and vary over time. PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: reliving, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood.

Reliving

Symptoms of reliving may include:

  • Repeated and distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, feeling as if the event is happening again
  • Nightmares about the event
  • Inappropriately severe reactions, emotional and physical, to something that triggers a memory of the traumatic event

Avoidance

Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • Attempting to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding people, places, and events that trigger memories of the trauma

Arousal and Reactivity

Symptoms of arousal and reactivity may include:

  • Having difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Being easily startled
  • Heightened sense of need to be on guard
  • Frequent irritability
  • Inappropriate and extreme displays of anger
  • Difficulty falling to sleep or staying asleep
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse or driving too fast

Cognition and Mood

Symptoms of cognition and mood may include:

  • Memory issues, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about self or the world
  • Distorted negative feelings, like guilt or blame
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed

The majority of people who suffer trauma do not develop a long-term post-traumatic stress disorder. For those who do, however, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Treatment, which may involve psychotherapy, medication or both, may help reduce the symptoms and allow the individual to regain control of normal, daily functioning.

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