Sometimes people experience an event, which is so unexpected
and so shattering that they re-live the situation in flashbacks
and/or nightmares, eventually becoming emotionally numb. When this
condition persists for over a month, it is diagnosed as
post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
is an anxiety disorder, which both children and adults can
What causes it?
PTSD is caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving
actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others.
Violent personal assault, such as rape or mugging, car or plane
accidents, military combat, industrial accidents and natural
disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are
stressors/triggers which have caused people to suffer from PTSD.
In some cases, seeing another person harmed or killed, or learning
that a close friend or family member is in serious danger has
caused the disorder.
What are the signs?
The symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months of the
traumatic event, but may surface many years later. The duration
and strength of symptoms vary.
There are three categories of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the event. The person has powerful,
recurrent memories of the event, or recurrent nightmares or
flashbacks in which they re-live their distressing experience.
The anniversary of the triggering event, or situations which
remind them of it, can also cause extreme discomfort.
- Avoidance and emotional numbing. Emotional numbing generally
begins very soon after the event. A person with PTSD may
withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in activities
they previously enjoyed and have difficulty feeling emotions,
especially those associated with intimacy. Feelings of extreme
guilt are also common. In rare cases, a person may enter
dissociative states, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to
several days, during which they believe they are re-living the
episode, and behave as if it is happening all over again.
- Changes in sleeping patterns and increased alertness.
Insomnia is common and some people with PTSD have difficulty
concentrating and finishing tasks. Increased aggression can also
Other illnesses may accompany PTSD
People with PTSD may develop a dependence on drugs or alcohol.
They may become depressed and/or have another anxiety disorder.
Dizziness, chest pain, gastrointestinal complaints and immune
system problems may be linked to PTSD. The patient needs to
volunteer information about a traumatic event, so that a doctor
may investigate a possible link with psychological trauma.
How is PTSD treated?
Medication can help with the depression and anxiety often felt
by people with PTSD, and assist in re-establishing regular sleep
patterns. Cognitive-behavioural therapy and group therapy are
generally felt to be more promising treatments. They're often
performed by therapists experienced in a particular type of
trauma, such as rape counsellors. Exposure therapy, in which the
patient re-lives the experience under controlled conditions in
order to work through the trauma, can also be beneficial.
Excerpts from CMHA National web site – Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder