According to National Center for PTSD (2010), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may arise after an individual has gone through or witnessed a distressing event. This event typically involves a serious threat to one's life, such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist acts, severe accidents, or physical/sexual assault during adulthood or childhood. While most individuals recover and return to their usual state with time, there are those who experience persistent stress reactions that don't naturally dissipate, and in some cases, may even intensify over time.
How does PTSD develop?
PTSD emerges as a result of exposure to a traumatizing incident. Roughly 60% of men and 50% of women undergo a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Following such an event, most individuals experience certain PTSD symptoms in the immediate aftermath, lasting for days or weeks. However, for some individuals, these symptoms persist and become more severe over time. The causes behind why some people develop PTSD are still being researched, with biological, psychological, and social factors playing a role in its development.
According to (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 2020), to be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 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
There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not be exactly the same for everyone. Each person experiences symptoms in their own way.
1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. They can feel very real and scary. For example:
You may have nightmares.
You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports, seeing an accident, or hearing fireworks are examples of triggers.
2. Avoiding things that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people remind you of the trauma event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. For example:
You may avoid crowds, because they feel dangerous.
You may avoid driving if you were in a car accident or if your military convoy was bombed.
If you were in an earthquake, you may avoid watching movies about earthquakes.
You may keep very busy or avoid getting help so you don't have to think or talk about the event.
3. Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event. The way you think about yourself and others may become more negative because of the trauma. For example:
You may feel numb—unable to have positive or loving feelings toward other people—and lost interest in things you used to enjoy.
You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
You may feel guilt or shame about the event, wishing you had done more to keep it from happening.
4. Feeling on edge or keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. For example:
You may have a hard time sleeping.
You may find it hard to concentrate.
You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
You might act in unhealthy ways, like smoking, abusing drugs or alcohol, or driving aggressively.
What treatments are available?
PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and pharmacotherapy (medication). There is no single best treatment, but some treatments appear to be quite promising, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT includes a number of diverse but related techniques such as cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). See the National Center for PTSD’s website for more information about treatment types and providers.
How can we help people with PTSD?
Here are some things you can do to support your loved one experiencing PTSD.
Educate yourself about PTSD: Learn more about PTSD, including its symptoms and how it affects people. This can help you understand what your loved one is going through and how you can best support them.
Listen to them: One of the most important things you can do is simply listen to your loved one. Let them know that you are there for them and willing to listen whenever they need to talk.
Offer practical support: Your loved one may be struggling with everyday tasks or activities. Offer to help with things like cooking, cleaning, or running errands.
Be patient: Recovery from PTSD can be a long and difficult process. It is important to be patient with your loved one and to recognize that healing takes time.
Encourage professional help: PTSD is a complex condition that often requires professional treatment. Encourage your loved one to seek help from a mental health professional.
Provide a safe and supportive environment: Creating a safe and supportive environment can help your loved one feel more comfortable and at ease. This can include things like avoiding triggers or creating a calming space.
Take care of yourself: Supporting someone with PTSD can be emotionally draining. Make sure to take care of your own mental health needs and seek support if you need it.
National Center for PTSD. (2010). What is PTSD? In www.ptsd.va.gov. https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Handout_What_is_PTSD.pdf
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2020). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/sites/default/files/documents/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/20-mh-8124-ptsd.pdf