Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when a traumatic event renders someone unable to forget the trauma. As a result, the sufferer dwells on the event, reliving troubling memories again and again. This often causes difficulty concentrating and a general feeling of being unsafe. Post-traumatic stress disorder affects roughly 7.7 million American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). However, the condition can also arise in children. Some individuals, particularly war veterans and survivors of abuse, are at a higher risk for developing PTSD. The same can be said for people who have experienced a disaster, accident or any other serious, traumatic event. The risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder following a traumatic event can be reduced, according to the NIMH. Seeking support from friends, family or a support group can be beneficial when it comes to coping with such an experience.

Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with a variety of symptoms. While each individual case of PTSD is unique, some symptoms are more common than others and are universally recognized by experts. According to the NIMH, signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be organized into the following three categories:
  • Re-experiencing symptoms – this may include nightmares, troubling thoughts and mental flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance symptoms – this occurs when a person with PTSD changes their behavior in order to avoid a circumstance that will remind them of the traumatic event. For instance, if a person was attacked while walking to their car at night, they may now avoid leaving their home after sunset.
  • Hyperarousal symptoms – these symptoms leave a person feeling edgy and easily frightened. According to the NIMH, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder may have difficulty sleeping or focusing on important daily activities. Often times, they appear stressed out and anxious. Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed when a person has at least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance symptoms and two hyperarousal symptoms for at least one month, according to the NIMH.

Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often approached using a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy encourages patients to talk through their problems with a trained therapist in order to better understand their condition. The NIMH refers to psychotherapy as “talk therapy.” When it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be successful. CBT teaches patients to recognize negative or harmful thought patterns, while teaching healthy coping strategies. Essentially, this approach helps equip patients with the tools to manage their PTSD and cope with bad memories. Post-traumatic stress disorder can also be treated with a psychotherapy approach called exposure therapy. This method encourages patients to confront and manage their fear. In a safe setting, the therapist helps expose the patient to whatever trauma they experienced. According to the NIMH, this can be done using mental imagery, writing or by visiting the place where the trauma occurred. Another treatment involves helping the person restructure their memory of the event. In other words, it’s beneficial for the patient to view what happened in a more realistic way as to relieve any guilt they may be feeling.

Medication

The NIMH reports that PTSD can also be treated with medication. Sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are two antidepressants approved by the FDA to treat PTSD. Some people report mild side effects including headache, nausea, drowsiness and sexual problems.