Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people after witnessing a shocking, frightening, or dangerous event.
It is normal to feel scared during and after a traumatic event. Fear causes many split-second changes in the body to help defend against or avoid danger. This “fight-or-flight” response is a common reaction designed to keep a person safe. Almost everyone will have a variety of reactions to trauma, but the majority of people will recover naturally from the initial symptoms. Those who continue to have issues may be diagnosed with PTSD. People suffering from PTSD may experience stress or fear even when they are not in danger.
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Symptoms and Signs
While the majority of traumatized people experience short-term symptoms, the majority do not develop long-term (chronic) PTSD. Not everyone who has PTSD has been through a traumatic event. Some events, such as the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, can also result in PTSD. Symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic event, but they can appear years later. To be classified as PTSD, symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work. The illness’s progression varies. Some people recover in 6 months, while others experience symptoms for much longer. The condition can become chronic in some people.
PTSD can be diagnosed by a doctor who has experience treating people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
An adult must have all of the following symptoms for at least one month in order to be diagnosed with PTSD:
At least one reoccurring symptom
At least one symptom of avoidance
A minimum of two arousal and reactivity symptoms
At least two symptoms of cognition and mood
Symptoms that recur include:
Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over again, accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating
Re-experiencing symptoms can disrupt a person’s daily routine. The symptoms may begin with the individual’s own thoughts and feelings. Re-experiencing symptoms can also be triggered by words, objects, or situations that serve as reminders of the event.
Avoidance symptoms include: avoiding places, events, or objects that remind you of the traumatic experience.
Avoiding thoughts or emotions associated with the traumatic event
Avoidance symptoms can be triggered by things that remind a person of the traumatic event. These symptoms may prompt a person to alter his or her daily routine. After a bad car accident, for example, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
Symptoms of arousal and reactivity include:
Being easily frightened
Tension or being “on edge”
Having trouble sleeping
Having rage-filled outbursts
Instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events, arousal symptoms are usually constant. These symptoms can cause a person to become stressed and angry. They may make it difficult to perform daily tasks such as sleeping, eating, and concentrating.
Among the cognitive and mood symptoms are: difficulty remembering key details of the traumatic event
Negative thoughts about oneself or the world Perverted emotions such as guilt or blame
Loss of enthusiasm for enjoyable activities
Cognition and mood symptoms can develop or worsen following a traumatic event, but they are not caused by injury or substance abuse. These symptoms can cause a person to feel alienated or detached from friends and family.
Some of these symptoms are normal for a few weeks after a dangerous event. PTSD may occur when symptoms last more than a month, seriously impair one’s ability to function, and are not caused by substance abuse, medical illness, or anything other than the event itself. Some people with PTSD are asymptomatic for weeks or months. Depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders are frequently associated with PTSD.
Do children have different reactions than adults?
Children and teenagers can have severe reactions to trauma, but some of their symptoms may differ from those of adults. Symptoms that are occasionally seen in very young children (less than 6 years old) include:
After learning to use the toilet, wetting the bed
Forgetting or being unable to speak
Acting out the frightening event during playtime
Being unusually attached to a parent or another adult
Older children and teenagers are more likely to exhibit symptoms similar to adults. They may also become disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive. Older children and teenagers may feel guilty for failing to prevent injuries or deaths. They may also harbor vengeful thoughts.
Anyone of any age can develop PTSD. This includes war veterans, children, and people who have experienced physical or sexual assault, abuse, an accident, a natural disaster, or other traumatic events. According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 7 or 8 people out of every 100 will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD, and genes may predispose some people to develop PTSD.
Not everyone who has PTSD has been through a traumatic event. Some people develop PTSD after a friend or family member is threatened or injured. The untimely death of a loved one can also result in PTSD.
Why do some people develop PTSD while others do not?
It’s important to remember that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. In reality, the majority of people will not develop the disorder.
Many factors influence whether or not a person develops PTSD. A few examples are provided below. Risk factors increase a person’s chances of developing PTSD. Other factors, known as resilience factors, can help reduce the disorder’s risk.
Some of the risk factors for PTSD are as follows:
Surviving dangerous events and traumas
Seeing another person in pain or a dead body
Feelings of horror, helplessness, or utter terror
Having little or no social support following the event Coping with additional stress following the event, such as the loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or the loss of a job or home
Having a mental illness or a history of substance abuse
Some factors that may aid in trauma recovery include:
Seeking assistance from others, such as friends and family
Locating a support group following a traumatic event
Learning to be confident in one’s own actions in the face of peril
Having a positive coping strategy, or a way of getting through and learning from a bad event
Having the ability to act and respond effectively in the face of fear
These and other risk and resilience factors, such as genetics and neurobiology, are being studied by researchers. More research may one day allow us to predict who is likely to develop PTSD and prevent it.
Therapies and Treatments
Medication, psychotherapy (“talk” therapy), or both are the most common treatments for people suffering from PTSD. Because everyone is unique and PTSD affects everyone differently, a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Anyone suffering from PTSD should seek treatment from a PTSD-experienced mental health professional. Some people with PTSD may need to try a variety of treatments to find the one that best fits their symptoms.
If a person with PTSD is experiencing ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both issues must be addressed. Other ongoing issues can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.
Antidepressants, which may help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside, are the most researched type of medication for treating PTSD. Other medications may be beneficial in treating specific PTSD symptoms such as insomnia and nightmares.
Doctors and patients can collaborate to determine the best medication or medication combination, as well as the appropriate dosage. Check the FDA’s website for the most up-to-date information on patient medication guides, warnings, and newly approved medications.
Psychotherapy (also known as “talk therapy”) is the process of talking with a mental health professional in order to treat a mental illness. Psychotherapy can be done one-on-one or in a group setting. Treatment for PTSD with talk therapy typically lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but it can last longer. According to research, family and friend support can be an important part of recovery.
People suffering from PTSD can benefit from a variety of psychotherapies. Some types specifically target PTSD symptoms. Other therapies concentrate on social, family, or work-related issues. Depending on the needs of the individual, the doctor or therapist may combine various therapies.
Effective psychotherapies tend to emphasize a few key components, such as symptom education, teaching skills to help identify symptom triggers, and symptom management. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one effective type of therapy. CBT can include the following:
Therapy through exposure. This assists people in confronting and controlling their fear. It gradually exposes them to the trauma in a safe manner. It involves imagining, writing, or visiting the location where the event occurred. These tools are used by the therapist to assist people suffering from PTSD in coping with their emotions.
Cognitive reorganization. This assists people in making sense of their negative memories. People’s memories of events can differ from how they occurred. They may experience feelings of guilt or shame for something that is not their fault. The therapist assists people suffering from PTSD in viewing what occurred in a realistic light.
Other types of treatment can also be beneficial. People suffering from PTSD should consult with a therapist about all treatment options. Individuals should be given the tools they need to manage their symptoms and return to activities they enjoyed before developing PTSD.
How Talk Therapies Aid in the Treatment of PTSD
Talk therapies teach people effective ways to cope with the terrifying events that trigger their PTSD symptoms. Depending on the general goal, various types of therapy may:
Teach about trauma and its consequences.
Use relaxation and anger-management techniques.
Give advice on how to improve your sleep, diet, and exercise habits.
Assist people in identifying and dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, and other negative emotions related to the event.
Change how people react to their PTSD symptoms. For example, therapy can assist people in confronting traumatic memories.
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It is estimated that almost 7% of the U.S. population will experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017). This debilitating disorder often interferes with an individual’s ability to function in daily life. Common symptoms of anxiousness and depression frequently lead to behavioral issues, adolescent substance abuse issues, and even physical ailments. For this Assignment, you examine a PTSD video case study and consider how you might assess and treat clients presenting with PTSD.
Review this week’s Learning Resources and reflect on the insights they provide about diagnosing and treating PTSD.
View the media Presentation Example: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and assess the client in the case study.