Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on October 22nd, 2018

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person lives through a traumatic event. PTSD is a disorder that is often associated with military and war veterans, but it is not exclusively experienced by those with military history. Anyone who has lived through a traumatic event is at risk of developing PTSD.

Common traumatic events that cause a person to develop PTSD include:

  • War or combat
  • Physical abuse
  • Mental or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • An assault
  • An accident
  • Being trapped or held hostage
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Witness an emotionally distressing event
  • Witnessing or being victim to acts of violence or terror
  • Witnessing a natural disaster
  • Being diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening medical condition

Symptoms of PTSD

Anyone has the potential to develop PTSD. When a person develops PTSD they will show indicative signs for diagnosis. A person with PTSD may or may not previously have low stress tolerance skills. Low stress tolerance skills will put a person at increased risk of developing PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event.

A person with PTSD will show the following symptoms:

  • Flashbacks (seeing or feeling sensations of re-living the traumatic event)
  • Avoidance of triggers or acceptance of events
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Muscle tension or trembling
  • Feelings of guilt or shame about event
  • Denial of the situation or events
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Panic attacks
  • Development of phobias
  • Trying to numb, or turn off emotions
  • Hyper-arousal (a constant state of sensitivity that causes irritability and excitability)
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating

Causes and Risk Factors of PTSD

PTSD is triggered by a traumatic event, and traumatic events are subjective. What is considered traumatic to some may not be considered traumatic to others.
Even though PTSD is subjective, there are certain situations that put a person at high risk of developing PTSD.

Some of these situations include (but is not limited to):

  • A near-death experience
  • Physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse or assault
  • Being involved in an accident, such as a car crash or natural disaster
  • Witnessing the death, torture, or dismemberment of another person
  • Physical injury
  • Combat or military history
  • Domestic violence, abuse or assault

Anyone can develop PTSD, but there are risk factors that make some people more susceptible to developing PTSD.

Some points to consider include:

  • For how long was the patient affected? – The longer the person was exposed to the traumatic event, the stronger the risk of developing PTSD.
  • How distressing was the event? – The more distress the traumatic event creates for the affected person, the bigger the scar it leaves on them.
  • What kind of coping strategies does the patient utilize? – Poor coping skills or poor stress management skills will reduce the affected person’s ability to cope with the traumatic event.
  • Does the patient suffer from other mental health disorders? – Pre-existing mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety will affect the affected person’s chances of developing PTSD.

Treatment of PTSD

Treatment of PTSD can be difficult to go through. In order to properly treat PTSD the affected person must speak about the traumatic events, which is often hard to do. If the affected person is able to properly work through and grieve the traumatic events that caused the PTSD, they will be able to reduce their symptoms. They will learn effective coping skills for treatment.

The following are effective forms of therapy for PTSD:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT will teach the patient techniques of how to come to terms with the reality of the traumatic event.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): People with PTSD tend to suppress their emotions, which worsens symptoms. DBT teaches the affected person how to stop suppressing emotions and accept what happened to them.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): PTSD causes significant effects on the brain. Research supports that EMDR trains the brain to calm sensory system when recalling the traumatic event. This prevents the symptomatic reaction when talking about the trauma experienced.

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