The essential feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the development of disabling psychological symptoms following a traumatic event. It was first identified during World War I, when soldiers were observed to suffer chronic anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks for weeks, months, or even years following combat.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur in anyone in the wake of a severe trauma outside the normal range of human experience. These are traumas that would produce intense fear, terror, and feelings of helplessness in anyone and include natural disasters such as earthquakes or tornadoes, car or plane crashes, rape, assault, or other violent crimes against you or your immediate family. It appears that the symptoms are more intense and longer lasting when the trauma is personal, as in rape or violent crimes.
Among the variety of symptoms that can occur with post-traumatic stress disorder, the following nine are particularly common:
- Repetitive, distressing thoughts about the event
- Nightmares related to the event
- Flashbacks so intense that you feel or act as though the trauma were occurring all over again
- An attempt to avoid activities or external situations associated with the trauma, such as developing a phobia about driving after you have been in an auto accident.
- Emotional numbness — being out of touch with your feelings
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Losing interest in activities that used to give you pleasure
- Persistent symptoms of increased anxiety, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, startling easily, or irritability and outbursts of anger.
For you to receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, these symptoms need to have persisted for at least one month. In addition, the disturbance must be causing you significant distress, interfering with social, vocational, or other important areas of your life.
If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, you tend to be anxious and depressed. Sometimes you will find yourself acting impulsively, suddenly changing residence or going on a trip with hardly any plans. If you have been through a trauma where others have died, you may suffer from guilt about having survived.
While treatment for PTSD can be complex, this disorder can be treated successfully with psychotherapy and/or medication. Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder do not seek treatment for fear that "nothing can help". There can be nothing further from the truth. Psychological problems associated with a trauma are very serious and the treatment must be approached from various dimensions. However, this disorder — like other anxiety disorders — is treatable. If you think you have PTSD, take the first step. Be proactive! Take action — you will be glad you did.
You have the resources with help to overcome the difficult consequences of this disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age and affects 6 to 7 percent of the population. Children with the disorder tend not to relive the trauma consciously, but continually reenact it in their play or in distressing dreams.