PTSD Information

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a mental illness that is elicited when an individual has experienced, witnessed, or learned about a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. There are many different definitions of what is deemed to be a trauma but, in general, any event that forces an individual to experience feelings of extreme distress, helplessness, or victimization can be defined as a trauma. Examples of traumatic situations that can instigate the development of PTSD may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • Deployment
  • Natural disasters
  • Car accidents
  • Plane crashes
  • Rape or assault

The symptoms of PTSD can be devastating and, in some cases, even debilitating and can include avoidance symptoms, hyperarousal symptoms, and re-experiencing symptoms. The severity of symptoms experienced will vary from person to person, but anyone who is suffering from a clinical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder will experience some level of disruption in their ability to function as a direct result of the symptoms they experience. The stress and detriments that can arise from the presence of this illness can be long-lasting and far-reaching but, fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help sufferers of this condition reclaim a happy and healthy life, free from the emotional turmoil brought on as the result of their traumatic pasts.

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Statistics

An estimated 5.2 million adults suffer from the devastating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Women are cited as being more widely affected by this mental health condition than are men, with 10% receiving a PTSD diagnosis as opposed to 5%, respectively. However, there are some professionals in the field who believe that the accuracy of these percentages may be somewhat questionable in that men may be just as likely to suffer from PTSD, but women are simply more likely to seek out treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In order for a person to suffer from the onset of symptoms of PTSD, he or she must have experienced, learned about, or witnessed a traumatic event. However, the reasons behind why some individuals go on to develop symptoms of this mental illness following a traumatic event, whereas others do not, are the result of different contributing factors. Such factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: As is true for other mental health conditions, a hereditary link is said to play a role in the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder. More specifically, individuals who have a family history of PTSD or various types of anxiety disorders are at a heightened risk for experiencing the onset of symptoms of this illness following a traumatic event than are individuals who do not share similar familial backgrounds.

Environmental: The nature of post-traumatic stress disorder itself lies in the environmental factor of an individual having witnessed, experienced, or learned about a trauma. However, the environment that surrounds a person can also impact his or her susceptibility to developing PTSD following the witnessing of, experiencing, or learning about a trauma. For example, if an individual is not surrounded by a strong support system, he or she is at higher risk of experiencing such symptoms than would be an individual who does have a strong support network. Furthermore, individuals who are exposed to chronic stress or chaotic home environments, or those who have experienced traumas in the past, are likewise more vulnerable to experiencing the onset of symptoms synonymous with post-traumatic stress disorder following a traumatic event.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Experiencing a trauma or a series of traumas
  • Exposure to prior trauma
  • Not possessing an adequate network of support
  • Lacking healthy coping skills
  • Family history of mental illness, especially anxiety disorders
  • Suffering from a preexisting mental health condition, especially an anxiety disorder
  • Being the subject of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When an individual is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms that he or she will display will typically vary from other individuals who are suffering from the same illness. The reasons for these variations lie in a number of different factors, including the specific type of trauma that was experienced, the length of time that has passed since the trauma occurred, the coping skills that an individual possesses, and the support system that an individual has available to him or her. Classified into three distinct categories, the following are examples of the various symptoms that may be displayed by an individual who is battling PTSD:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Reoccurring and disturbing nightmares
  • Persistent and intrusive memories about the trauma
  • Flashbacks that result in the individual feeling as though the traumatic experience is actually occurring over and over again
  • Onset of physical symptoms, including profuse sweating, labored breathing, and/or an increased heart rate when thinking about or reminded of the trauma

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Avoiding situations, places, and/or people that may conjure memories of the trauma
  • Failing to be able to remember details about the trauma
  • Experiencing episodes of depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself / feeling as if one is in a dream)
  • Experiencing episodes of derealization (feeling as though the world around one is not real)
  • No longer showing interest in things that one used to enjoy

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Constantly feeling as though one is on edge
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety
  • Consistently feeling as though danger or harm is imminent
  • Suffering from sleep disturbances
  • Experiencing angry or aggressive outbursts
  • Increased feelings of irritability and agitation
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When the symptoms of PTSD are allowed to fester and an individual does not receive the treatment he or she needs to heal, there can be any number of adverse effects that result. Tragically, experiencing a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events, is said to greatly increase a person’s suicide risk. Therefore, individuals with untreated PTSD are at a heightened risk for experiencing suicidal thoughts and engaging in suicidal behaviors. In addition, the following effects have been known to impact sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder when appropriate therapeutic interventions are not implemented:

  • Lack of occupational success, including prolonged unemployment
  • Financial distress
  • Familial strife
  • Disturbed social relationships
  • Divorce
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Chronic self-harm and the subsequent physical ailments that can result from such
  • Development of an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Persistent bodily aches and pains
  • Decline in overall physical health
  • Onset of symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions

Co-Occurring Disorders

Sadly, extensive research has shown that people who suffer from post-traumatic disorder are 80% more likely to meet criteria for a diagnosis of another type of mental health condition than are individuals who do not suffer from PTSD. Examples of various disorders that have been cited as co-occurring alongside a diagnosis of PTSD include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Conduct disorder
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