Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the result of serious psychological trauma. PTSD affects all age groups including children.

A person with PTSD will have experienced or witnessed an event that involved actual or threatened death, serious injury or physical threat to themselves or others. As a result they have experienced intense fear, helplessness or horror.

The experience creates specific symptoms that last for at least one month. PTSD also causes significant distress in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

What kind of experiences can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder?

Unlike many other psychiatric disorders, a diagnosis of PTSD emphasizes the occurrence of an external event, something that is completely outside the control of the individual.

Events that can cause PTSD include:

  • Experience of military combat.
  • Violent personal assault (rape, incest, and other sexual assault; physical attack, mugging).
  • Domestic abuse.
  • Kidnap, torture.
  • Being held as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp.
  • Natural disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes).
  • Severe car, airplane or other accidents .
  • Manmade disasters (bombings, terrorism).
  • The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of PTSD are generally divided into three categories — intrusive, avoidant and hyperarousal.

Symptoms of intrusive PTSD are:

  • Recurring thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares about the event.
  • Psychological distress when experiencing something reminiscent of the trauma.
  • Physiological response when experiencing something reminiscent of the trauma.

Symptoms of avoidant PTSD are:

  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings connected with the trauma.
  • Avoiding people, places, or things reminiscent of the trauma.
  • Inability to recall important aspects of the trauma.
  • Disinterest in significant activities.
  • Feeling withdrawn, disconnected or different than others.
  • Feeling pessimistic about the future.
  • Restricted range of feelings — for example, feeling that you cannot love someone.

Symptoms of hyperarousal PTSD are:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (perhaps due to nightmares).
  • Increased or exaggerated startle response — for example, jumping when a door slams or a car backfires.
  • Hypervigilance — acute awareness of the external environment.
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger.
  • Difficulty concentrating.

It is important to note that symptoms in children may be different from those listed here and may include repetitive play in which parts of the trauma are re-enacted.

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