Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that affects a person's mental health. A person typically suffers from PTSD after seeing or experiencing a traumatizing event where grave injury or death is involved. PTSD can be viewed as a severe illness, affecting normal function of a person's everyday life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when a person's natural "fight-or-flight" response reaction is altered or damaged. Those suffering from PTSD may feel constantly stressed or frightened long after the traumatic event has occurred and they are no longer in any form of danger.
Almost anyone can suffer from PTSD at practically any age. From veterans of war, to children who have suffered from abuse, there are numerous factors that can cause someone to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases, there are those with PTSD who may not have directly suffered through or witnessed a dangerous event, but may have a close friend or family member who is harmed or has passed away under traumatic circumstances.
Certain events are likely to cause PTSD, such as:
- Natural disasters, like floods, earthquakes and fires
- Domestic abuse
- Being in a hostage situation
- Experiencing child abuse or neglect
These are only a few examples of events that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. Again, one does not have to directly experience a traumatic event to trigger PTSD, and having a history of trauma in one's life increases the likelihood of suffering from PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD are commonly broken down into three categories:
- Memories or reliving the event: Those suffering from PTSD may suffer from episodes where they relive the traumatic experience through flashbacks or dreams. These episodes can occur when they are conscious or even while they are asleep and reliving the experience through a dream.
- Avoiding or trying to forget the event: Another group of symptoms associated with PTSD are categorized as "avoidance" symptoms. The individual may try to erase the traumatic memories by not talking about the event, becoming numb to any type of emotion and avoiding any activities that bring about any form of emotion. For example, people suffering from PTSD might avoid activities that they once enjoyed, and may even have difficulties maintaining relationships, even with those who they should be the closest to like a spouse or their children.
- Anxiety and emotional arousal: The third group of symptoms involves increased anxiety and emotional arousal. The individual may exhibit anger issues and might be easily irritated or startled. One might also have sleeping problems and difficulty concentrating.
Rather than looking for a specific set of symptoms, those caring for someone suffering from PTSD should look for an abnormal pattern of behavior that can fall into any of the three categories of symptoms mentioned above. Should the symptoms persist for a lengthy period of time, professional assistance should be sought immediately.
Coping With PTSD
It is important to recognize signs of PTSD and seek professional treatment as soon as possible to prevent the disorder from progressing after a traumatic experience. There are various forms of treatment available to help people cope with PTSD:
- Medication: Certain medications can help improve symptoms of PTSD, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety and sleeping medication. Patients should consult with their physician about possible side effects or problems with the medication to determine if their continued use is the best course of action.
- Support groups: It might be helpful for those suffering from PTSD to share their feelings and life experiences with those who have suffered from similar, traumatic events. Support groups can also be effective for those who have turned to substance and alcohol abuse to cope with PTSD.
- Therapy: There are several forms of therapy that can be used for coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. Cognitive therapy consists of a person discussing his or her daily experiences with a professional to gain a further grip on what is causing any problems in day-to-day life. Exposure therapy allows people to confront a traumatic experience in a safe, controlled environment. An example of exposure therapy is virtual reality program that allows someone to enter a specific situation without the threat of actual danger.
To properly cope with PTSD, it may take one or a combination of these treatment methods. Progression of post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to further complications such as:
- Deterioration of relationships with family, friends and loved ones
- Panic disorder
- Substance abuse
Professional help should be sought immediately if there are any signs that a person suffering from PTSD is having thoughts of hurting him or herself. There are numerous social services, mental health specialists, centers, clinics, family services, support groups and hotlines available to assist those suffering from PTSD. Visit the NIMH for further resources on post-traumatic stress disorder in the links below.