Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on August 23rd, 2018

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that occurs when someone lives through a traumatic event. PTSD is a disorder that is often associated with military and war veterans, but it is not exclusive to those with military history. Anyone is susceptible to developing PTSD if he or she has lived through a traumatic event. 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

When a patient develops PTSD, he or she will show indicative signs for diagnosis. A person with PTSD may or may not previously have low stress tolerance skills, which make a patient vulnerable to developing PTSD. Anyone has the potential to develop PTSD. 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

Risk Factors of PTSD

PTSD is a mental health disorder that is triggered by a traumatic event. Traumatic events are subjective. This means that 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 factors include:

  • 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 determining risk factors that make some people more susceptible to developing PTSD. Some points to consider are:

  • 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 patient, the bigger the scar it leaves on him or her.
  • What kind of coping strategies does the patient utilize? – Poor coping skills or poor stress management skills will reduce the patient’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 patient’s chances of developing PTSD.

Treatment of PTSD

Treatment of PTSD can be difficult to go through. In order to properly treat PTSD the patient must speak about the traumatic events, which is often hard to do. If the patient is able to properly work through and grieve the traumatic events that caused the PTSD he or she will be able to reduce the symptoms. He or she will also 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 causes the symptoms. DBT teaches the patient how to stop suppressing the emotions and accept what happened to him or her.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a form of therapy in which a patient is asked to follow a pointer with his or her eyes while recounting the traumatic events. Following the pointer with one’s eyes prevents the brain from overwhelming the sensory system. This prevents the symptomatic reaction when talking about the traumatic event.

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