Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Researchers now know that anyone, even children, can develop PTSD if they have experienced, witnessed, or participated in a traumatic occurrence-especially if the event was life threatening. PTSD can result from terrifying experiences such as rape, kidnapping, natural disasters, or war or serious accidents such as airplane crashes. The psychological damage such incidents cause can interfere with a person’s ability to hold a job or to develop intimate relationships with others.
PTSD has often been misunderstood or misdiagnosed, even though the disorder has very specific symptoms. Although it was once thought to be mostly a disorder of war veterans who had been involved in heavy combat, researchers now know that PTSD also affects both female and male civilians, and that it strikes more females than males. In some cases the symptoms of PTSD disappear with time, whereas in others they persist for many years. PTSD often occurs with—or may contribute to—other related disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, problems with memory, and other problems of physical and mental health.
DSM describes two trauma disorders: acute stress disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. In a nutshell, acute stress disorder occurs in the time frame between just after exposure to a traumatic event to six months later, and posttraumatic stress beginning at the six-month point and extending thereafter.
The symptoms of PTSD can range from constantly reliving the event to a general emotional numbing. Persistent anxiety, exaggerated startle reactions, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, and insomnia are common. People with PTSD typically avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event, because they provoke intense distress or even panic attacks. Although the symptoms of PTSD may be an appropriate initial response to a traumatic event, they are considered part of a disorder when they persist beyond three months.
All forms of post-trauma response are typically characterized by the presence of three classes of symptoms. First, the post-trauma victim typically experiences intrusive memories of the traumatic event. Intrusive recollections may occur during waking hours or sleep (in the form of repetitive vivid recreation nightmares involving the trauma). Second, the post-trauma victim makes efforts to avoid exposure to anything that might cause them to recall the trauma they experienced. Third, the post-trauma victim typically shows an exaggerated startle response and heightened anxiety levels. As a result of these sorts of symptoms, experienced on a consistent basis day in and day out, PTSD (as posttraumatic stress is called) can be a very debilitating condition.
Psychotherapy can help people who have PTSD regain a sense of control over their lives. They also may need cognitive behavior therapy to change painful and intrusive patterns of behavior and thought and to learn relaxation techniques. Support from family and friends can help speed recovery and healing. Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents to reduce anxiety, can ease the symptoms of depression and sleep problems. Treatment for PTSD often includes both psychotherapy and medication.
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