Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Sometimes people experience an event, which is so unexpected and so shattering that they re-live the situation in flashbacks and/or nightmares, eventually becoming emotionally numb. When this condition persists for over a month, it is diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder, which both children and adults can develop.
What causes it?
PTSD is caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others. Violent personal assault, such as rape or mugging, car or plane accidents, military combat, industrial accidents and natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are stressors/triggers which have caused people to suffer from PTSD. In some cases, seeing another person harmed or killed, or learning that a close friend or family member is in serious danger has caused the disorder.
What are the signs?
The symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic event, but may surface many years later. The duration and strength of symptoms vary.
There are three categories of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the event. The person has powerful, recurrent memories of the event, or recurrent nightmares or flashbacks in which they re-live their distressing experience. The anniversary of the triggering event, or situations which remind them of it, can also cause extreme discomfort.
- Avoidance and emotional numbing. Emotional numbing generally begins very soon after the event. A person with PTSD may withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed and have difficulty feeling emotions, especially those associated with intimacy. Feelings of extreme guilt are also common. In rare cases, a person may enter dissociative states, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several days, during which they believe they are re-living the episode, and behave as if it is happening all over again.
- Changes in sleeping patterns and increased alertness. Insomnia is common and some people with PTSD have difficulty concentrating and finishing tasks. Increased aggression can also result.
- Other illnesses may accompany PTSD
People with PTSD may develop a dependence on drugs or alcohol. They may become depressed and/or have another anxiety disorder. Dizziness, chest pain, gastrointestinal complaints and immune system problems may be linked to PTSD. The patient needs to volunteer information about a traumatic event, so that a doctor may investigate a possible link with psychological trauma.
How is PTSD treated?
Medication can help with the depression and anxiety often felt by people with PTSD, and assist in re-establishing regular sleep patterns. Cognitive-behavioural therapy and group therapy are generally felt to be more promising treatments. They’re often performed by therapists experienced in a particular type of trauma, such as rape counselors.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder