Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that develops in people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel sad during and after a traumatic event. Though everyone might experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet many people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms usually begin early within three months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes they begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or routine work to be considered PTSD.
· Flashbacks – reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
· Bad dreams.
· Frightening thoughts.
· Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience.
· Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms
· Being easily startled.
· Feeling tense or “on edge”.
· Having difficulty sleeping.
· Having angry outbursts.
Cognition and mood symptoms
· Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event.
· Negative thoughts about oneself or the world.
· Distorted feelings like guilt or blame.
· Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
In very young children particularly less than 6 years of age, symptoms may however differ from adults and include:
· Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet.
· Forgetting how to or being unable to talk.
· Acting out the scary event during playtime.
· Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least one month:
· At least one re-experiencing symptom.
· At least one avoidance symptom.
· At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms.
· At least two cognition and mood symptoms.
Risk factors and resilience factors
Risk factors that increase risk for PTSD include:
· Living through dangerous events and traumas.
· Getting hurt.
· Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body.
· Childhood trauma.
· Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear.
· Having little or no social support after the event.
· Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home.
· Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse.
Resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:
· Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family.
· Finding a support group after a traumatic event.
· Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger.
· Having a positive coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it.
· Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.
Treatments and therapies
The main treatments for people with PTSD are medications, psychotherapy or both. Everyone is different, and PTSD affects people differently so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another.
The most studied medications for treating PTSD include antidepressants. Antidepressants may be prescribed along with psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) involves talking with a mental health professional to treat a mental illness. Psychotherapy treatment for PTSD usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but sometimes it can last longer. Many forms of psychotherapy can help people with PTSD. One of the important helpful forms of psychotherapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which includes:
· Exposure therapy: It gradually exposes patients to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses imagining, writing, or visiting the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings.
· Cognitive restructuring: It helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way.