Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that is triggered by memories of a traumatic event. Events that may trigger PTSD symptoms include:
- Military combat
- Muggings and other violent assaults
- Natural disasters
- Rape or sexual harassment
- Serious accidents
- Terrorist incidents.
PTSD usually develops within three months of the trauma, but PTSD symptoms may appear years later. Medical documentation of PTSD began during the Civil War (the condition was then known then as “Da Costa’s Syndrome”). Veterans have reported suffering from PTSD symptoms after every major military conflict, including:
- Persian Gulf War
- Vietnam War
- World War II.
Men and women who have spent time in war zones are the most susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. However, anyone may develop PTSD symptoms regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. Even PTSD in children is common, particularly for children exposed to sexual abuse or extreme violence, such as school shootings.
The most common PTSD symptoms include recurring vivid nightmares of the event for months or even years, as well as sleep disorders. Often, people with PTSD will try to rid themselves of the painful memories and feelings. Alcohol and substance abuse is common among PTSD sufferers, as well as suicide in serious cases.
Specific PTSD symptoms fall into three categories:
Avoidance PTSD symptoms: Victims avoid close emotional ties with family, friends and colleagues. Post-traumatic stress disorder commonly causes a reduction in emotions, often resulting in numbness. The person tries to avoid everything that is likely to trigger memories of the traumatic event because they are afraid the symptoms will worsen. When the person recalls memories of the event, she alternates between a flood of emotions and a lack of emotions. Because these people avoid forming close relationships with people and try to separate themselves from their emotions, depression is a common byproduct of avoidance symptoms.
Hyperarousal PTSD symptoms: Victims act as if they are constantly threatened by the trauma. They are always on guard because they fear that the minute they let their guard down, they will be forced to experience another traumatic event. Many of these people are irritable and can explode even without provocation. Due to their constant vigilance, these people often develop insomnia and anxiety.
Intrusive PTSD symptoms: Victims experience unexpected flashbacks. During these episodes, the person relives vivid memories of the traumatic event. Painful emotions such as grief, fear and despair often accompany these memories. Sometimes, the memories are so strong that the person believes he is actually experiencing the event again.
Methods of treating PTSD depend on a number of factors, including:
- Recommendations of the doctor or therapist
- The severity of the disorder
- The victim’s mental health.
The most common form of therapy, however, is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on correcting the patterns of behavior associated with PTSD by teaching relaxation techniques and examining the mental processes that may be causing the symptoms. Therapy provides skills for coping with anxiety, anger management and effective communication. Family and friends may also be asked to help with the healing process.
People suffering from milder cases of PTSD are advised to attend group therapy sessions to share their experiences and reactions. This method allows victims to deal with their emotions and fears with the support of others who are in similar situations.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most often used to treat depression, but they are also useful in treating PTSD and the associated anxiety. Other medications, like clonazepam, may also decrease feelings of anxiety and treat other PTSD symptoms. Currently, no medication is specifically designated as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Since so many veterans experience this condition, military PTSD treatment is taken very seriously. The military currently focuses on early diagnosis of new and returning soldiers, in hopes that early diagnosis will lead to more successful military PTSD treatment.
Drummond, K. (2009). Military’s plan for PTSD: Early diagnosis good, prevention better. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the Wired website: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/08/militarys-plan-for-ptsd-early-diagnosis-good-prevention-better/.
Hamblen, J. (2008). PTSD in children and adolescents. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website: http://ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_children.html.
Long, P.W. (2009). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the Mental Health website: http://www.mentalhealth.com/dis/p20-an06.html.
Smith, M., Segal, R. and Segal, J. (2008). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved April 19, 2010, from the Help Guide website: http://helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm.