Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that a person sees or that happens to them. During this type of event, a person feels that their life or others’ lives are in danger. Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include:
- Combat or military exposure
- Child sexual or physical abuse
- Terrorist attacks
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
- Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake
All people with PTSD have lived through a traumatic event that caused them to fear for their lives, see horrible things, and feel helpless. Strong emotions caused by the event create changes in the brain that may result in PTSD.
- How likely someone is to get PTSD depends on many things. These include:
- How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted
- If someone was hurt of killed in the event
- How close a person is to the event
- How strong the reaction was
- How much help and support a person receives after the event
A high proportion of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience symptoms of PTSD. Other factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation and may contribute to PTSD and other mental health problems. These factors include military assignment in the war, the politics around the war, and where it’s fought. According to the 2004 Report of the Special Committee on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 40% of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to Walter Reed Army Medical Center reported symptoms consistent with PTSD.
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years There are four types of symptoms: 1) reliving the event; 2) avoidance; 3) numbing; and 4) feeling keyed up.
Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms):
- Bad memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. A person may feel the same fear and horror as when the event took place. A person can experience nightmares or feel like they going through the event again. Sometimes there is a trigger: a sound or sight that causes a person to relive the event.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event: A person may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. They may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
- Feeling numb: A person may find it hard to express their feelings. This is another way to avoid memories.
- Feeling keyed up (also called hyper arousal): A person may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as hyper arousal. It can cause people to: suddenly become angry or irritable; have a hard time sleeping; have trouble concentrating; or feel always on guard.
People with PTSD may also have other problems. These include: drinking or drug problems; feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair; employment problems; relationship problems including divorce and violence; or physical symptoms
There are good treatments available for PTSD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of counseling. It appears to be the most effective type of counseling for PTSD. There are different types of cognitive behavioral therapies such as cognitive therapy and exposure therapy. A similar kind of therapy called EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is also used for PTSD. Medications can be effective, too. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used for depression, is effective for PTSD.