“PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.”
― Susan Pease Banitt
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that affects over 7 million American adults or approximately 3.5% of the population. About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in a war zone will develop PTSD.
More than one million veterans developed PTSD after serving in Vietnam.
PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood, but research shows that the median age of onset is 23 years.
PTSD is triggered by exposure to a traumatic event. People with PTSD continue to experience anxiety and stress long after the initial event. Situations in which a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror are considered traumatic.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been reported in people who have experienced military combat, physical assaults, rape, violent confrontations, natural disasters, automobile accidents, sexual abuse, and even cancer survivors. Children may even develop PTSD symptoms as a result of long term severe bullying.
Not everyone who is a victim of trauma will develop PTSD. Factors, which are believed to play a role in the development of the disorder include:
- Having been exposed to previous traumatic experiences
- Personality type; anxious as opposed to resilient and hardy
- A history of childhood abuse or living in poverty.
- Poor coping skills
- Lack of a strong support system.
- Existing ongoing stress in one’s life.
- A social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred
- Abuse of alcohol or other substances.
- Family psychiatric history
The severity of the trauma, an individual’s level of involvement, and the duration of the event, also play a major role.
Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma.
Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal.
PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last longer than one month.
Symptoms of PTSD are generally categorized into the following three areas:
Re-experiencing of the event
- Dreams or nightmares
- Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
- Avoiding close emotional contact with family and friends
- Avoiding people or places that are reminders of the event
- Loss of memory about the event
- Feelings of detachment and numbness
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Anger and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being easily startled
Three varieties of PTSD are recognized:
- Acute — symptoms last between 1-3 months after the event
- Chronic — symptoms last more than three months after the event
- Delayed onset — symptoms do not appear until at least six months after the event
There is no definitive treatment for PTSD. Cognitive talk therapy which involves changing one’s thinking patterns has shown to be effective. A newer type of therapy known as EMDR or Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was developed specifically for treating stress disorders such as PTSD.
EMDR works by helping the sufferer process distressing memories more fully which reduces the distress. EMDR is based on an information-processing model, which poses that symptoms arise when events are inadequately processed, and can be eradicated when the memory is fully processed.
Medications, particularly SSRIs and SNRIs, can also provide symptom relief. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two medications for treating adults with PTSD, sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil).
For more information on post-traumatic stress disorder, please visit the National Center for PTSD.
Self-assessment for PTSD by the U.S. Department for Veteran’s Affairs.
Source material: Worthpublishers.com, Whole Psychiatry.com, Psychology Today, Wikipedia, NIH.gov