Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious anxiety disorder caused by trauma or other life-altering events. Although the effects of PTSD can be devastating, there are many treatments and therapies that have been helpful in allowing individuals to regain a sense of normality.
PTSD is commonly associated with military personnel during times of war, and has only recently been discussed in a frank and open manner. However, PTSD can be caused by numerous other situations such as violent crimes, natural disasters, accidents or other incidents that cause serious physical or mental distress. The effects are not limited to the victim of an incident, loved ones or witnesses can be left with long-lasting effects. Furthermore, an actual physical injury is not necessary. An attempt or threat of injury can be sufficient to cause psychological trauma. The traumatic event often causes intense fear and helplessness, which are classic reactions that precipitate the development of PTSD.
The symptoms of PTSD are anxiety-related and can manifest themselves in various ways. One of the most common symptoms is involuntarily reliving the traumatic event. This can occur in the form of intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares. These experiences are typically extremely realistic, with vivid imagery, sounds, smells or feelings. In other situations, intense feelings of fear, distress or peril could be brought on by seemingly benign stimuli. A sound, smell, elevated heart rate or other stimulus that can be attributed to the traumatic event, could potentially invoke many negative feelings and reactions.
These spontaneous experiences can often give the affected person the feeling that their life is out of control. Nightmares can disrupt sleep and possibly lead to the person avoiding going to sleep. Situations, locations or other stimuli that cause flashbacks or other negative reactions may cause a person to spend a significant amount of time avoiding these things. In some circumstances, a person may become terrified to leave their home.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD can overlap with depression, and depression commonly occurs with PTSD. These symptoms include diminished interest in activities that were once enjoyable, such as social settings, hobbies or other activities. The person may suddenly isolate themselves from others, have emotional numbing and have a sense of doom. In some cases this can progress to suicide ideation or attempts.
Various behavioral changes may be observed. The affected person may be more temperamental, have angry outburst, become hypervigilant or easily startled. Other aspects of their life may be compromised by memory problems and lack of concentration.
Symptoms of PTSD in children may be different. Some children may be too young to articulate their feelings or experiences. Children with PTSD will often have vivid nightmares, but they may engage in play that acts out the traumatic event. They may be irritable, agitated, fearful or intimidated. Some children also display regression of certain behaviors. The child may experience bedwetting again or suddenly have separation anxiety.
For a true diagnosis of PTSD, the affected person must have experienced symptoms for at least one month. If the symptoms occur for less than three months, it is considered acute, whereas symptoms for longer than three months are considered chronic PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD may not occur immediately after the traumatic event, this is referred to as Delayed Onset.
The best treatment for managing PTSD is seeking help from a psychologist, and if necessary, a psychiatrist. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. Over time, CBT can help patients work through their traumatic event in a safe environment while developing coping mechanisms. Most patients find that talking about their experiences, either in individual counseling or in group therapy sessions, substantially improve their quality of life and decreases symptoms. In some cases, therapy combined with antidepressants may help to alleviate both anxiety and depression-related symptoms.
The most important part of treating PTSD is being receptive to the help that is available. Individuals that experience a traumatic event should seek help as soon as possible to help themselves cope with the event, and possibly reduce or eliminate further problems. Even if a traumatic event occurred months or years in the past, it is never too late to seek help.