Post traumatic stress disorder was earlier known as “shell shock” is a serious mental condition that occurs to a person who undergoes or witness a traumatic event. People who experience terrifying event in their life would take some time to overgrow the trauma. But for few people, the symptoms of helplessness, intense fear, flashbacks, nightmares, negative feelings and avoiding social life would continue for years after the event.
Actual cause of PTSD is not known clearly, since not all the people who witness traumatic events in their life are developing this disorder. It is believed to occur due to certain changes in chemical reaction in the brain. The symptoms can be managed with effective medications and therapy. Report indicates that 3.5-4% of Americans have PTSD (about 7.8 million Americans). This disorder can occur to anyone at any age and more women than men suffer from this anxiety disorder.
Initial symptoms would start anytime after a person experiences traumatic event. The signs and symptoms can be broadly categorized into 4 main streams namely disturbed memories, avoidance, having negative changes in mood and finally change in emotions. Disturbed memories can cause recurrent thoughts about traumatic event, flashbacks, nightmares, upsetting dreams and intense emotional disturbance.
Symptoms of avoidance include avoiding people, avoiding certain places and avoiding thinking or talking about the stressful event. Negative changes in mood and thought can cause guilt feeling, low self esteem, hopelessness, lack of interest and inability to maintain relationships. The person may not remember certain aspects of the event and he may lose interest in important activities.
Changes in emotions can cause difficulty in sleeping, concentrating, guilt feeling, and trouble in remembering and concentrating, always expecting some danger and engaging in self destructive behavior. The person may get frightened easily even by small events. The intensity of symptoms may not be the same for all. The memories would become severe when the person is stressed or witness certain events that remind them about the past. Children with PTSD at young ages can have delayed development of motor skills.
PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder affecting certain people who witness terrifying event or undergo increased stress. A child who is sexually abused for prolonged period may develop PTSD. An individual who witness gruesome accident, who is in part of personal assault, who sees violent deaths of loved ones and military combat can develop this disorder.
People who are held as captives by terrorists and those who are part of natural disasters can have high risk of developing traumatic disorder. Symptoms can begin shortly within weeks but for some people it might take months or years also. PTSD is believed to occur due to inherited mental aspects of your personality and the response of your body to stressful events and changes in chemical reaction in your brain.
Who are at Risk?
- Military personnel and people facing prolonged physical or mental abuse are at high risk of developing PTSD.
- People who lack good family system and grow up in neglected childhood have increased chance of getting this disorder.
- You are at risk of getting this problem if you have family history of anxiety disorder or other mental health problem.
- People who are involved in natural disasters like flood, earthquake and who witness’s accident or plane crash may develop PTSD.
- As such PTSD can cause complications like depression, anxiety and emotional disturbance if not treated. It can cause complications like developing addiction to alcohol or substance and increased suicidal thoughts.
PTSD can be detected based on symptoms. Your doctor will refer the case to a psychologist who will evaluate the disorder by asking series of questions. She would ask you about the traumatic events in your life. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of psychiatric disorders, a person is said to have PTSD if he/she has some of the above mentioned symptoms for more than a month or two. For some people it can cause great distress and make them unable to carry on with daily tasks.
The main purpose of treating PTSD is to help the person to overcome the stress caused by traumatic event or experience. Based on the severity of the symptoms, the person will be given psychotherapy and medications.
- Psychotherapy :
Cognitive behavior therapy can help the person to change his thought patterns and manage his feelings and emotions caused by trauma. Exposure therapy is one in which the therapist will take the person through artificially created traumatic experience and teach him to confront the fear. Many approaches like psychodynamic therapy, family and group therapy are used to change the behavior of the person effectively and to remove the distress caused by traumatic experience.
- Medications :
Antidepressants like sertraline or paroxetine are prescribed for relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Anti anxiety drugs can help the person to overcome stress and improve his sleeping pattern. Prazosin is an effective drug used to control nightmares and relieve the symptoms of PTSD. You need to consult your doctor about the side effects of these medications and follow his instructions and usage and dose.
Discuss with your doctor and therapist freely about PTSD. Stick on to your treatment plan even if you feel better and continue taking medications till your doctor says to stop them. Do regular exercise and eat healthy diet. Get in touch with your family and friends and share your feelings. You can also join a support group to get ideas about their coping strategies.
Many of us would confront with traumatic experience in life, but not all of us develop symptoms of PTSD. You will be able to come out of it within few days. Do not delay in getting treatment if you feel that you are not able to overcome the stress caused by traumatic experience. The more you delay the treatment, the more will be the severity of symptoms of PTSD.
In most of the cases, recovery is possible but it can take some time since it is a gradual process. You cannot totally forget the event but you can manage to carry on with life with well developed coping methods.