Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is diagnosed after an individual experiences post traumatic symptom at least one month after a traumatic event. Some symptoms may not appear for months or even years after the event. While this disorder is commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, it can be experienced by anyone who has had a traumatic event in their life.
There are three main PTSD symptoms: One is re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, or distressing recollections of the event. Re-experiencing the trauma can be overwhelming, causing the person to really believe they are back during that time. It may happen at random, or because of a trigger. A trigger can be something someone hears, sees, or smells that causes them to recall the event.
People with PTSD may also avoid things that remind them of their trauma. This can be specific places, people, activities or even smells. Avoidance and emotional numbness occurs as people try to protect themselves from getting triggered and reliving their trauma. Sometimes this appears in the form of people keeping very busy in order to avoid thinking about the event. They might also not want to seek help because it would mean talking about the trauma.
The third symptom of PTSD is feeling hyper-arousal. This is when someone feels jumpy, jittery, and is always alert and on the lookout for potential dangers. They might become angry or irritable suddenly with limited or no provocation. Often times this hyper-arousal causes difficulty with sleeping or concentrating. People with PTSD that are experiencing this might appear overly paranoid.
It can be hard to notice the symptoms of PTSD if they are not happening to you. Someone with PTSD might hide what they are going through to avoid talking or thinking about the trauma. If someone is unwilling to discuss the trauma or cannot remember important aspects of it (not due to head injury, alcohol or drugs) then they might be suffering from PTSD. Another sign is if they have a more negative attitude about the world and themselves. They could say things like “I am a bad person” or “Nobody can be trusted”.
You might notice someone being hyper-vigilant, always looking for possible threats, or standing with their backs against the wall to avoid being attacked. These are all signs of the hyper-arousal symptom. Other signs of hyper-arousal may be reckless behavior or increased irritability.
PTSD develops after an extremely stressful, frightening, or distressing event or after a traumatic experience. Soldiers that engaged in battle or witnessed death are the people most publicly associated with PTSD. Other occupations that deal with high-stress situations and death such as firefighters, paramedics, and police officers can also develop this disorder. Sometimes serious accidents like a car crash or a fire can be the cause. Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis can also be highly traumatic for people.
An isolated assault, such as sexual assault, mugging, or robbery can also cause someone to develop PTSD. Witnessing the violent death or having a close relative get severely injured can cause it as well. Prolonged situations also are causes. Being held hostage or repeated neglect or abuse has been known to cause PTSD.
While avoiding talking or thinking about the trauma might seem to solve the problem, that can only make matters worst in the long term, as stress-induced behaviors become more entrenched over time. Pushing trauma-induced feelings and responses down typically causes them to bubble over and appear until the root causes are addressed. PTSD is often joked about but it is a real, serious, and debilitating mental disorder that affects people’s lives.
Contact us if you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD or is showing signs and symptoms.