Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD can result when someone has been exposed to a traumatic event (e.g., vehicle collision, assault, natural disaster, observing a serious injury, major surgery, combat), in which the person or someone else was seriously injured or threatened with serious injury or death.
The person's response often involves intense fear, helplessness or horror, though a child's response to the traumatic experience may differ. Although most people generally begin to cope with these experiences quite soon after they occur, sometimes the fear or anxiety persists beyond the event.
People can feel as though they are re-experiencing the events through recurrent, distressing images, thoughts, or perceptions or through recurrent distressing dreams.
A small percentage of individuals feel as through the traumatic event is actually recurring, including a sense of reliving the experience though illusions, hallucinations, and flashback episodes while awake or intoxicated.
Part of re-experiencing can include intense psychological distress or physiological reactivity when exposed to internal or external reminders of some aspect of the traumatic event. Some people even experience panic symptoms, including a full-blown Panic Attack when faced with reminders.
Individuals often try to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, activities, places, or people that remind them of the trauma. There may be an inability to recall some important details of the trauma.
Some individuals experience a general psychological numbing, including less interest in previously important activities, feeling detached from others, less emotional responsiveness, or feeling as if their future holds less promise or is limited in some way.
People with PTSD also experience heightened physiological reactivity, resulting in sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. They also find it difficult to concentrate and are more easily startled, or find themselves constantly on guard for danger. Many people find that they are less in control of their emotions which results in greater irritability and outbursts of anger.
If the symptoms have lasted for less than 1 month Acute Stress Disorder rather than PTSD is diagnosed.
People with PTSD often present with symptoms of depression. It is important to inform your Mental Health Professional of previous traumatic experiences in order to avoid being misdiagnosed with depression when a primary or additional diagnosis of PTSD is warranted.
The treatment for PTSD involves directly addressing the symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, numbing, and hyperarousal, as well as helping the individual to process the traumatic event itself. Current research indicates that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are the best treatment for PTSD. In both CBT and EMDR, the person learns to mentally process the traumatic event in a different way in order to eliminate reexperiencing. Treatment also involves having the individual engage in activities in a systematic, step-by-step manner that results in less anxiety in response to reminders of the trauma. Working through the trauma involves learning new ways of thinking and feeling about the events that enables the person to move forward.