Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A middle-aged rape survivor suffers from nightmares and panic attacks for months following her nightmarish ordeal. A soldier returns from combat and relives the terrors of war for years via flashbacks and vivid dreams. A middle-school student can’t get the bloody faces of dead classmates out of his mind following a horrific school shooting and begins to hyperventilate every time he goes anywhere near the campus.
Treatment plays a very important role in overcoming PTSD. The sooner it is received, the better the chance of a good outcome.
Each of these individuals is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – often referred to as PTSD for short. This challenging psychiatric disorder can develop in anyone who has experienced or witnessed an intensely traumatic event. In some cases, the trauma put their own life or well-being at risk.
In others, the trauma came from witnessing the serious harm or violent death (or near-death) of someone else. PTSD is believed to impact a significant portion of the population. It knows no barriers when it comes to age, gender, education, or social class. Very young children and elderly adults have been diagnosed with the disorder.
Sometimes, symptoms develop quickly, starting out as acute stress disorder, if they develop within 30 days following the trauma and continue beyond that time frame. But, for some trauma survivors, the symptoms don’t appear until several weeks, or even many months (or longer), after the incident. Regardless of the time of onset, PTSD symptoms may persist for months, years, or even decades – especially if proper treatment is never received.
While any type of trauma can trigger PTSD, some of the more common triggers include:
- military combat
- sexual or physical assault
- serious car accident
- violent storms (e.g. hurricanes, tsunamis, or tornados)
- witnessing a murder or fatal accident
- near-drowning experience
- being trapped (e.g. in a burning building or collapsed structure)
- childhood sexual or physical abuse
- being the victim of domestic violence
In the past year alone, many survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook school shooting, and the Colorado movie theatre massacre are battling PTSD. Not only are many of those survivors struggling to overcome the horrific images from those events, they are also striving to heal and rehabilitate from injuries they sustained. Many are also grappling with survivor’s guilt – particularly those who lost a loved one who died while trying to protect them.
The range and severity of PTSD symptoms can vary quite a bit from one individual to the next. Sometimes they are fairly obvious, such as recurring nightmares or frequent flashbacks of the traumatic event. In other cases, however, they are less evident. Individuals with PTSD have a mix of symptoms from three different categories.
- Persistent re-experiencing of the trauma (e.g. disturbing dreams, intrusive memories, flashbacks or feeling as if they are actually reliving the event)
- Persistent avoidance of anything that reminds them of the traumatic incident, as well as a numbed response (e.g. avoiding people, places, and/or activities associated with the trauma; limited emotional expression; feeling detached from others; inability to recall important details of the trauma)
- Persistent arousal symptoms (e.g. sleep problems, irritability, poor concentration, being easily startled)