PTSD and Trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event, such as rape or physical violence, combat, disaster, threat to personal integrity, or witnessing an event in which another person has been killed or injured. Child neglect and physical / sexual abuse of children can cause PTSD. 

Most Americans will experience a traumatic event that triggers a stress response at least once in their lives. Up to 20% of these people will develop PTSD, with women twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. If the reactions do not subside over time or interfere with your life, you may develop PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

These symptoms can be divided into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Flashbacks--reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating

  • Bad dreams

  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms can start with the person's own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event also can trigger re-experiencing and may cause problems in a person's everyday routine.

2. Avoidance symptoms

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience

  • Feeling emotionally numb

  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry

  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past

  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Anything that reminds a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. Avoidance symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

  • Being easily startled

  • Feeling tense or "on edge"

  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating. It's natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. 

Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don't show any symptoms for weeks or months.

Children and Adults

Children and adolescents may have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. In very young children, PTSD symptoms may include:

  • Bedwetting when they'd learned how to use the toilet before

  • Forgetting how or being unable to talk

  • Acting out the scary event during playtime

  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult.

Older children and adolescents typically exhibit symptoms that are more similar to those of adults. They can also develop disruptive, irreverent, or destructive behaviors. Older children and adolescents may feel guilty for not being able to prevent injury or death. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

PTSD is associated with increased likelihood of co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis are terms used to describe a person who may have started using mood-altering substances to cope with their PTSD.

The following is a list of psychiatric disorders that is most prevalent for people who have PTSD:

  • Alcohol/Drug Abuse and Dependency

  • Major Depressive Disorder

  • Conduct Disorder

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Social Phobia

  • Personality Disorders.

Treatment

There is no definitive treatment and no cure, but there are some treatments that are quite promising.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) involves the reinterpretation of negative thoughts that evoke highly charged emotions. A form of cognitive-behavioural therapy is exposure therapy, which uses a careful, repeated, detailed presentation of trauma exposure in a safe, controlled context to help the survivor face fear and suffering and gain control of the trauma, which has been overwhelming through the use of relaxation techniques.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a relatively new treatment that has seen success with PTSD patients. This treatment method comprises elements of exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, combined with eye movements, palpitations, or sounds that produce bilateral brain stimulation.

Medication

Antidepressant anti-anxiety medication has been effective in reducing the symptoms of PTSD. Be aware that each person suffering from PTSD may have different symptoms that would determine the appropriate medication.

If someone you know has symptoms of PTSD, talk to them and encourage them to get help by having a psychiatric evaluation conducted by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. The person may have difficulty talking about the tragedy because it is too painful, so you should be patient and understanding if they do not want to talk about this issue. 

Learn about PTSD to gain an understanding of your family member's behavior. Observe what triggers flashbacks and frightened reactions, and try to minimize the triggers in the house you control.