Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a problem that occurs after a person experiences a life-threatening event that makes him or her feel extremely frightened and vulnerable. Such events include war, crime, rape, abuse, accidents, natural disasters like floods and earthquakes, and other potentially deadly and dangerous circumstances. However, the traumatic event doesn’t have to happen to the person directly for PTSD to develop. A person might develop the disorder after witnessing someone else in a life-threatening situation, or even after hearing about someone else’s tragedy.
Symptoms that begin immediately after a trauma or within the first month after a trauma are officially diagnosed as acute stress disorder. If the symptoms persist for longer than one month, a diagnosis of PTSD would be made. Usually, symptoms of PTSD begin within three months of experiencing the trauma. However, it isn’t unusual to experience a delay of several months or even years before the symptoms begin.
The major symptoms of PTSD can be divided into three categories. First, the traumatic event is reexperienced in some way after it has ended. This could mean that the person has vivid and frightening dreams about the event weeks or months after it takes place. Or throughout the day, the person may experience intrusive thoughts and memories about the event that he or she can’t get rid of or control. In severe cases, people might even feel as though they are once again reliving the event. Such experiences are called flashbacks. During a flashback, they might suddenly feel strange and unreal, like they are somewhere else. In addition, people might become extremely frightened or agitated when they’re in a situation similar to the traumatic event, or when they see or hear something that reminds them of the trauma. For example, if a woman experienced a traumatic event that involved gunshots, she might become frightened and have vivid memories of her trauma whenever she hears the sound of a car backfiring.
The second category of PTSD symptoms involves different kinds of avoidance behaviors caused by the trauma. For example, a person might stay away from the site where a traumatic event took place or avoid conversations and thoughts about the event. To friends and family members, it might even appear as if the person’s memory has blocked out all recall of the event. People struggling with PTSD might also find themselves avoiding objects, events, or people that made them happy before the traumatic event, or they might even experience a generalized numbing of their emotions.
The third category of PTSD symptoms includes various kinds of heightened anxiety. This could mean having trouble falling asleep, difficulty thinking and concentrating, a heightened sense of being on the alert for potential danger, or increased anger, agitation, and frustration. In addition, it’s also common for people with PTSD to think about death frequently, either their own death or other people’s deaths. For example, one client with PTSD remarked that she felt like she was living in “the land of the dead” more often than she felt alive.