Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after you have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. The event may have been violent, such an assault, or terrifying, such as a natural disaster or car accident. It can also happen after an experience that involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror, such as being held captive or witnessing someone being killed.
This condition was first recognised after World War I (1914-1918), when it was called shell shock. It was seen in soldiers who had been exposed to the horrors of battle. Then after World War II (1939-1945), it was called combat fatigue. The term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III), which was published in 1980.
PTSD is now understood to be a very real condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or nationality. There is no single cause of PTSD. Rather, it’s thought to be caused by a combination of factors including genetics, environment, and life experiences. Some people may develop it after a single traumatic event, while others may experience multiple traumas over a period of time, in which case it is called Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).
Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause many different symptoms. Some people have trauma triggers that kick off intrusive memories, which are unwanted images or thoughts that keep coming back to them. Other people avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. They may not want to go near places where the event happened, or they may try to avoid talking about it. People with PTSD also often have mood swings. They may feel very sad, angry, or scared for no reason.
Other symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares and feeling constantly on edge and anxious. Flashbacks are in fact one of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD. They are sudden, intense memories of the traumatic event that can feel like you’re reliving it. Intrusive memories are other unwelcome images, thoughts, or sensations that may pop into your head related to the traumatic event. Nightmares are also common and can be very disturbing.
You may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, or nausea. Some people report experiencing a racing heart or trouble sleeping.
PTSD can be very disabling and make it difficult to continue with your usual activities. It is often accompanied by other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder. It can lead to alcohol or drug abuse as people try to cope with their symptoms.
Other disorders related to PTSD
There are a few other mental health conditions that are related to PTSD. These include:
Acute Stress Disorder: This is a condition that develops in the days or weeks after a traumatic event. It includes many of the same symptoms as PTSD, but they tend to be less severe.
Adjustment disorder: This is when you have difficulty coping with stress after a traumatic event. You may have problems sleeping, eating, and concentrating. You may also feel very anxious or depressed.
Disinhibited social engagement disorder: This is when you have trouble regulating your emotions and behaviour around other people. You may act impulsively or inappropriately, or make careless mistakes socially.
Reactive attachment disorder: This is when you have difficulty forming relationships with other people and don’t feel attached to them in a healthy way. You may not be interested in socializing, or you may want too much attention from others.
What can you do about it?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to treating PTSD. What works for one person may not work for another.
Therapies that have been found effective include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy. Medication can also be useful in managing symptoms, so talk to your doctor about what might work best for you. It’s important to find a treatment plan that you feel comfortable with and that helps you manage your symptoms. There is hope, and there are treatments available that can help you get your life back on track.
For Further Reading
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – What Is PTSD, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- Complex PTSD (CPTSD): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- The Linen Cupboard Metaphor – Traumatic Memories and PTSD
- Can You Get PTSD From Narcissistic Abuse? The Toxic Impact of the Narcissist
- PTSD Awareness Month – Everything You Need to Know About PTSD
- PTSD in Men: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and PTSD: What’s the Connection?
- What is a Trauma Trigger and What Does Being “Triggered” Mean?
- Hypervigilance: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
- 7 Signs Complex Trauma Is Impairing Your Relationship
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