Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that surfaces after experiencing a very dangerous, frightening, and uncontrollable event such as military combat exposure, a violent crime, a life-threatening accident such as a car wreck, criminal or sexual assault, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster such as a tornado, flood, hurricane, or earthquake. Not everybody who is exposed to a stressor requires treatment. However, if left untreated, PTSD can affect individuals to the point that, over time, even their daily functions become seriously impaired. This places them at higher risk for self-medication and abuse with alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, under employment and unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, and suicide. Research studies have also demonstrated that PTSD is linked with co-occurring physical illnesses such as physician-diagnosed chronic pain, hypertension (high blood pressure), sleep disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.

Symptoms of PTSD can be terrifying and usually start soon after the traumatic event, although they may not surface for weeks, months, or even years. PTSD symptoms fall into four categories: 1) avoidance (amnesia, dissociation, numbing, hyper-vigilance, controlling behavior, and isolation; 2) reliving or re-experiencing (flashbacks, sleep disorders, overwhelming feelings, and overreacting); 3) victimization (distrust of others, abandonment, helplessness, and fear of change); and 4) shame (feeling guilty, feeling as if you’re mentally ill, and feeling unworthy). Untreated PTSD can also have a negative effect on one’s family and loved ones; and sometimes those suffering from PTSD also develop symptoms of depression that are sever enough as to require additional treatment.

In acute PTSD symptoms generally last one to three months after the traumatic event. In chronic PTSD, symptoms generally last three months or longer, and with delayed PTSD, at least six months elapse between the traumatic event and the onset of symptoms. If your symptoms are bad enough, go directly to a hospital.

Fortunately there are several evidence-based treatments for PTSD. These include cognitive therapy and exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Always discuss with your physician which medication may be right for you.