Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Almost everyone has experienced an intense event in their life. When an event causes a person a lot of stress, it is called a “traumatic event”. People have different reactions to traumatic events. The most common responses are anxiety, fear, grief and depression. After a few months, most people will feel better and go back to a healthy emotional state. However, if their reactions start to worsen or the the problems last longer than several months, the person might have PTSD. It normally is associated with war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents. Events such as: robbery, rape, torture, held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes. Simply put — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops after a horrific situation that involved physical harm or the fear of physical harm
PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms
Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
2. Avoidance symptoms
Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
Feeling emotionally numb
Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
3. Hyperarousal symptoms
Being easily startled
Feeling tense or “on edge”
Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.
How Widespread is it?
PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults, but it can occur at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and there is some evidence that susceptibility to the disorder may run in families.
Anyone can get PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters, and many other serious events.
Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some people get PTSD after a friend or family member experiences danger or is harmed. The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can also cause PTSD.
Not every traumatized person develops full-blown or even minor PTSD. Symptoms usually begin within 3 months of the incident but occasionally emerge years afterward. They must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic (i.e. not curable).
A doctor who has experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can diagnose PTSD. The diagnosis is made after the doctor talks with the person who has symptoms of PTSD.
In general –to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have all of the following for at least 1 month:
At least one re-experiencing symptom
At least three avoidance symptoms
At least two hyperarousal symptoms
Symptoms that make it hard to go about daily life, go to school or work, be with friends, and take care of important tasks.
PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.
The main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy (“talk” therapy), medications, or both. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. It is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health care provider who is experienced with PTSD. Some people with PTSD need to try different treatments to find what works for their symptoms.
If someone with PTSD is going through an ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both of the problems need to be treated. Other ongoing problems can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal.
Remember, it is imperative to seek treatment for PTSD as early as possible. Symptoms can become more severe over time and for some people PTSD can last for many years. Call us immediately. We are here to help you with decisions about treatment.
Resources for help and information
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) informs the public, healthcare professionals and legislators that anxiety disorders are real, serious and treatable. The ADAA promotes early diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders, and works to improve the lives of the people who suffer from them. http://www.adaa.org/index.cfm
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They work to improve the clinical care and social welfare of America’s veterans through research, education, and training in the science, diagnosis, and treatment of PTSD and stress-related disorders. NCPTSD works with many different agencies and groups including veterans and their families, government policymakers, scientists and researchers, doctors and psychiatrists, journalists, and the public. This website is provided as an educational resource concerning PTSD and other consequences of traumatic stress. http://www.ncptsd.org/
National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) is part of the of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health. NIMH is responsible for research on mental health and mental disorders, including research on the mental health consequences of and interventions after disasters and acts of mass violence. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Alliance is an alliance of professional and advocacy organizations that provide educational resources to individuals diagnosed with PTSD and their loved ones; those at risk for developing PTSD; and medical, healthcare and other professionals. http://www.ptsdalliance.org/ (877) 507- PTSD
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) is the lead mental health services agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA help assess assessing mental health needs and mental health training for disaster workers. SAMHSA also help arrange training for mental health outreach workers, assesses the content of applications for federal crisis counseling grant funds, and addresses worker stress issues and needs. http://www.samhsa.gov
American Red Cross focuses on meeting people’s immediate emergency needs after a disaster, such as shelter, food, and physical and mental health services. They also feed emergency workers, handle inquiries from concerned family members outside the disaster area, provide blood and blood products to disaster victims, and help those affected connect with other resources. http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster