It is okay when after experiencing or witnessing a terrible event, where serious physical harm took place, people are filled with intense fear, shock, anxiety, sadness and even guilt. Usually, in time people get better. But if these symptoms last too long and you constantly feel yourself at danger and uncontrollable thoughts won’t let you go and interfere with your life, you might suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome.
It is very important to get an effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop.
Who gets posttraumatic stress disorder?
It is common to believe that only those who have experienced war can have PTSD. But that is a misconception. The PTSD can also accompany people who have experienced or witnessed physical or sexual abuse, natural disaster, those whose job is to help to liquidate the consequences of disasters, including those who provide emergency and law enforcement services. Friends and family members of those who experienced a traumatic event can also suffer from PTSD.
How common is post-traumatic stress disorder?
About 3.6% of adult Americans suffer from PTSD during every year, and about 7.8 million Americans will experience it some day in the future. Even children can suffer from PTSD. It is seen in delayed development in toilet training, motor skills, and language. Women are more likely to experience and develop PTSD than men because women are being victims of domestic violence, abuse and rape more often.
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder
The symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into three main categories:
- Avoiding (of everything that remembers about the terrifying event);
- Increased arousal (severe anxiety).
Symptoms of relieving
- Obtrusive, distressing memories of the traumatic event;
- Reliving (you feel yourself or act in a way as if that traumatic event takes place right now – flashbacks);
- Nightmares (or other terrifying things);
- Severe emotional distress and tension, when something reminds you of the traumatic event;
- Intense physiological reactions, when something reminds you of the traumatic event (increased heart rate, accelerated breathing, vomiting, muscle tension, increased sweating, etc.)
Symptoms of avoiding
- Avoiding actions, places, things, people, words, thoughts and/or feelings, that remind you of the traumatic event;
- Inability to remember the important key moments of the traumatic event;
- Loss of interest in life, apathy;
- Feeling of isolation from other people and emotional exaltation;
- Feeling of wasted life (you don’t think that you will ever be able to lead a normal life, to create a family, to build a career, etc.)
Symptoms of increased arousal
- Sleeping problems (troubles with falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, etc.);
- Irritation, outbursts of anger, aggressive behaviour;
- Troubles with concentration;
- Hyperalertness, hyper-control, always on guard for danger;
- Overwhelming guilt or shame;
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast;
- Being easily startled or frightened.
Some people distinguish four groups, where the fourth is the symptoms of negative thinking and mood.
Symptoms of negative thinking and mood
- Negative feelings about yourself or other people;
- Inability to experience positive emotions;
- Feeling emotionally numb;
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed;
- Hopelessness about the future;
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event;
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships.
Posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis
PTSD develops differently for everyone. Though usually it takes a few hours or days after the traumatic event for symptoms to develop, sometimes they can occur in weeks or even month after the event. Practically anything can trigger PTSD, whether a sound or an image, someone’s words or even smell.
All people experience PTSD in their own way. Some people recover within six months while others suffer much longer.
There are no special tests to diagnose PTSD, but if the doctor (a psychiatrist or psychologist) has helped people with mental conditions, he may diagnose PTSD after talking with the patient.
- Psychotherapy plays a vital role in treating PTSD. The most important and helpful one is the cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). It helps you to get to know the ways of thinking that get you stuck in PTSD. Exposure therapy will safely face you with everything that frightens you so that you could successfully cope with it. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements. They intend to help you process traumatic memories and change you reaction.
- Along with therapy, some medications can also be used, especially when and if PTSD interferes with your everyday performance. Usually, specialists prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and prazosin (to improve your sleeping routine if you have problems with sleeping).
Posttraumatic stress disorder and family
If your closed one suffers from PTSD, you will also need a support. PTSD can become a burden. Sometimes PTSD can result into loss of job, alcohol and other substances abuse and other problems.
It is hard to understand why your loved one doesn’t want to share his thoughts with you. Give him or her some space and let them know that you’re here for them whenever they need your help. Be willing to listen. But be mindful if he or she doesn’t want to talk.
If you place the person who suffers from PTSD as a priority – you risk neglecting your own needs and, as a consequence, being emotionally devastated and burnt out. If you have difficulty coping, talk with your doctor. He or she may refer you to a therapist who can help you work through your emotions.
To be able to take care of the ill person, you need to take care of yourself.
It is also very important that you educate yourself about PTSD. The more you know about the symptoms and treatment options, the more effective you will be in trying to help.
Encourage participation. Plan opportunities for activities with family and friends. Celebrate good events.
And if your loved one wants to be helped, try attending the appointments to assist with treatment. Visit support groups together.
Stay safe. Plan a safe place for yourself and your children if your loved one becomes violent or abusive.