Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
After surviving a traumatic life event such as war, terrorism, physical abuse, or assault, most individuals have difficulty putting the situation behind them and readjusting to day-to-day life. Eventually, many victims recover from the trauma to the point where they can function as they did earlier in life. Some victims, however, have persistent mental symptoms that do not ease, and in fact become worse, over time. These individuals are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that is common among combat veterans.
Definition of PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a dissociative disorder triggered by a frightening, painful, or disturbing life event. Instead of easing over time, the traumatic reactions and anxious symptoms get worse over time.
Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders
Most sufferers of PSTD begin to be affected within three months of the traumatic event, however it is possible for signs of PTSD to emerge years after the event. Sufferers often appear depressed, withdrawn, and agitated.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Disorders
Symptoms of PTSD are grouped into three categories:[1,2]
Intrusive memories, or “re-living” the event:
- The sufferer has flashbacks in which he or she envisions parts of the event and feels the emotions associated with the event.
- The sufferer has vivid, disturbing nightmares.
- Situations that remind the sufferer of the event incite strong reactions.
Avoidance of the event:
- The sufferer refuses to discuss or think about the event.
- The sufferer becomes withdrawn, avoiding relationships with others and giving up on activities that were once important.
- The sufferer’s moods become flat and emotionless.
- The sufferer’s memory and ability to concentrate are diminished.
Anxiety and emotional arousal:
- The sufferer is easily startled.
- The sufferer is often irritable and angry, and may have violent outbursts.
- The sufferer has difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
Other symptoms include feelings of guilt for surviving the event, headache, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat.
All sufferers respond differently to the disorder. Some many experience all of these symptoms, others may only struggle with one or two.
Causes of PTSD
While it is known that PTSD is directly caused by exposure to a traumatic event, it is unknown why some individuals overcome the trauma, and others suffer from PTSD. It is theorized that genetic predisposition to anxiety and mental illness may make it more likely for someone to get PTSD following exposure to a trigger event. Some studies have indicated that PTSD is more likely when the traumatic event has persisted since early childhood, or when the event was extremely violent and disturbing.
Effects of PTSD
If left untreated, sufferers of PTSD may have trouble securing employment and engaging in enjoyable relationships with others. Those with PTSD face a higher risk of suffering from substance abuse and depression. They also may become suicidal. It has been determined that the physical toll PTSD takes on the body can result in heart disease, chronic pain, and other medical conditions.
Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders
Other disorders that have resulted from PTSD should be treated before therapy for PTSD begins. These include alcoholism and depression. The therapy method most often used in treatment is desensitization therapy. With this method, the sufferer is encouraged to remember and discuss the traumatic event until he or she adjusts to the memories, and they become less disturbing. Anti-anxiety medications and sleep aids may be prescribed to help the sufferer respond better to therapy, and to encourage long-term healing. Support groups can help the sufferer become more comfortable discussing the event, and can help him or her connect with others who have experienced PTSD.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (February 13, 2012). PubMed Health. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor