Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is brought on by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying, usually life-threatening, event. Such events can occur both in childhood and as an adult. Severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares are common symptoms of the illness. Symptoms can present immediately after the trauma or years following.
Are There Different Types of PTSD?
Three different types of post-traumatic stress disorder exist. If symptoms last less than three months, the condition is considered acute PTSD. If symptoms last at least three months, the disorder is referred to as chronic PTSD. If symptoms manifest at least six months following a traumatic event, the disorder is classified delayed-onset PTSD, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Signs & Symptoms
PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:
- Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
- Bad dreams.
- Frightening thoughts.
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience.
- Feeling emotionally numb.
- Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry.
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past.
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
- Being easily startled.
- Feeling tense or “on edge.”
- Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that was first formally diagnosed in soldiers and war veterans and is usually caused by terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experiences but can also be caused by devastating life events like unemployment or divorce.
- PTSD symptom types include re-experiencing the trauma, avoidance, emotional numbing, and hyperarousal.
- PTSD has a lifetime prevalence of 7%-30%, with about 5 million people suffering from the illness in any one year. Girls, women, and ethnic minorities develop PTSD more than boys, men, and Caucasians.
- Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) usually results from prolonged exposure to traumatic event(s) and is characterized by long-lasting problems that affect many aspects of emotional and social functioning.
- Symptoms of C-PTSD include problems regulating feelings, dissociation, or depersonalization, persistent depressive feelings, seeing the perpetrator of trauma as all powerful, preoccupation with the perpetrator, and a severe change in what gives the sufferer meaning.
- Untreated PTSD can have devastating, far-reaching consequences for sufferers’ medical, emotional, and vocational functioning and relationships, their families, and for society. Children with PTSD can experience significantly negative effects on their social and emotional development, as well as their ability to learn.
- Although almost any event that is life threatening or that severely compromises the emotional well-being of an individual may cause PTSD, such events usually include experiencing or witnessing a severe accident or physical injury, getting a frightening medical diagnosis, being the victim of a crime or torture, exposure to combat, disaster, or terrorist attack, enduring any form of abuse, or involvement in civil conflict.
- Issues that tend to put people at higher risk for developing PTSD include female gender, minority status, increased duration or severity of, as well as exposure to, the trauma experienced, having an emotional condition prior to the event, and having little social support. Risk factors for children and adolescents also include having any learning disability or experiencing violence in the home.
- Disaster preparedness training may be a protective factor for PTSD as can rapid intervention and certain personal, interpersonal, and environmental factors.