The majority of people who experience a traumatic ordeal typically respond with feelings of shock, fear, anxiety, sadness, or anger. These feelings are normal and usually fade over time. People with Posstraumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, continue to experience these emotions as if the traumatic event were still occurring. These feelings can intensify over time and can negatively affect daily functioning and a person’s quality of life.
What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Posstraumatic Stress Disorder is a severe type of anxiety disorder that results from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or horrifying event in which serious physical or psychological harm was present or threatened.
People with PTSD respond to these events with excessive feelings of helplessness, horror, or fear that continue over time. PTSD can be a long-lasting result of traumatic situations such as military combat, war, sexual or physical assaults, the sudden death of a loved one, school shootings, or natural disasters. The severity and duration of the disorder varies from person to person.
Who Can Get PTSD?
PTSD is a serious mental health condition that affects many. Over 8 million adults (3.5%) and 3 million adolescents and teenagers (4%) in the United States are diagnosed with PTSD in any given year. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. Almost half of all mental health outpatients have PTSD.
PTSD presents as a serious condition affecting active-duty and retired military personnel. Among only Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEI/OIF) veterans who seek treatment at a Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare facility, the PTSD prevalence rate is between 13 and 21%.
Over 200 million people experience some kind of traumatic event in their lives, and a significant portion of these people go on to develop PTSD. If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, know that you are not alone and that treatment is available.
PTSD and Other Disorders
PTSD commonly co-occurs with other psychiatric diagnoses. Depression is common in people who experience PTSD. Substance-use is also very common in those with PTSD. Theories as to why substance use is so common point to people’s desires to “self-medicate” their suffering.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Millions of people suffer daily from the oftentimes paralyzing symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms can occur instantly after a trauma or they can appear months and even years after. As PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder, many symptoms are similar to those of other anxiety disorders, particularly those of panic disorder. People with PTSD usually experience symptoms in three categories:
- Reexperiencing the trauma: People with PTSD often relive the traumatic event through constant intruding thoughts and memories. This includes:
- Frequent dreams/nightmares about the event
- Acting or feeling as if the event were occurring again through hallucinations, illusions, or flashbacks
- Excessive psychological or emotional distress when reminded of the event
- The body responds to these reminders physiologically: trouble breathing, sweating, dizziness, increased heart rate, etc
- Avoidance: Those with PTSD often go out of their way (knowingly and unknowingly) to avoid anything that is a reminder of the event. This includes;
- Avoiding associated thoughts, feelings, or conversations
- Avoiding associated activities, places, or people
- Forgetting key aspects of the trauma
- Decreased interest in normally enjoyed activities
- Feelings of detachment or isolation from others
- Restricted range of emotions
- Sense of a doomed future, hopelessness
- Intense Sensory Arousal: People who develop PTSD present with a hyperarousal, or a sense of heightened awareness of the environment around them. This includes:
- Sleep disturbances
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Being easily startled
Treatment for PTSD
There are currently beneficial treatments available for the treatment of PTSD. The most common include psychotherapy and medication. Medical literature states that the most effective psychotherapy modalities for the treatment of PTSD seem to be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and a type of therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Medications that have proven to be beneficial for PTSD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are also helpful in the treatment of depression.
With proper treatment, many people with PTSD learn to manage their symptoms and effectively cope with stressors. They are able to acquire insights and skills that facilitate an increased quality of life. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, please reach out to your primary care physician or a local mental health practitioner.