Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD
What Is It?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a trauma where the person experienced or witnessed a terrifying event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury. The symptoms (intense fear, helplessness, etc.) persist for over one month, cause significant distress, and cause impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Who Does It Affect?
PTSD can occur at any age. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is notable in veterans suffering from the effects of battle fatigue. This anxiety disorder is diagnosed in individuals who have been victims of rape, kidnappings or other crimes; involved in accidents or people who have witnessed natural disasters such as tornados or earthquakes.
Signs And Symptoms
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one or more of the following ways:
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions
- Recurrent distressing dreams of the event
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring
- Intense psychological or physiological distress at exposure to cues that resemble the traumatic event
The individual has persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness as indicated by three or more of the following:
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
- Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
- Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
- Restricted range of feelings
- Sense of foreshortened future
Persistent symptoms of increased arousal as indicated by two or more of the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hyper vigilance or exaggerated startle response
Screening and Diagnosis
Individuals experiencing distress in their life may complete self-report questionnaires and recognize PTSD in themselves or in someone they know, but a formal diagnosis may only be made by a mental health professional trained to assess psychological problems. A formal evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor, or nurse practitioner would be the place to start. The evaluation would include a structured interview with extensive questioning about experiences that may have been traumatic for you and about symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of these experiences. You may be asked to complete psychological tests about your thoughts and feelings to help in a proper diagnosis and determining appropriate treatment.
Treatment for PTSD may include one or more of the following: medication, psychotherapy, stress debriefing, peer group support, play therapy, EMDR, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Qualified mental health professionals will determine the type of treatment through assessment and discussion with you about your particular need. Individuals diagnosed with PTSD may have secondary issues to deal with such as depression, sleep disturbance, or substance abuse.
Family therapy works well to help children and their parents or other family members cope with trauma. Adults with PTSD also benefit from having family members educated, and therapy can be used to develop coping skills for the entire family. Community support groups for those suffering from chronic PTSD are beneficial as well.
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.