Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events. Most people who experience such events recover from them, but people with PTSD continue to be severely depressed and anxious for months or even years following the event People who have experienced previous traumatic events run a higher risk of developing Posttraumatic stress disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:
Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of
the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that
are reminders of the trauma.
Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling
jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
Traumatic events come in many forms and are generally distinguished from more commonplace misfortunes by the severity of the event and the intensity of a person’s reactions to it. Psychological trauma can result from a single, one-time traumatic event such as:
- sexual assault
- physical attacks
- car accidents
- natural disasters
- and other violent events
It can also include responses to chronic or repetitive stressful experiences such as:
- child sexual and physical abuse
- battering relationships
- urban violence
However, different people will react differently to similar events. One person may perceive an event to be traumatic that another may not and not all people who experience a traumatic event will become psychologically traumatized.
Traumatic events are pervasive in our culture and do not discriminate among people. Therefore, trauma survivors are both women and men, all ages, all races, all social classes, all sexual orientations, all religions, and all nationalities. Unfortunately, all people are at risk for experiencing traumatic events.
Trauma survivors often have problems or symptoms as a result of their experience. Many factors influence how serious these symptoms may be, such as a person’s life experiences before the trauma, a person’s ability to cope with stress, how severe the trauma was, and what kinds of help and support the person gets immediately following the trauma.
Most trauma survivors are unfamiliar with the effects of trauma and often have difficulty understanding the problems they are having. Trauma survivors often feel like they are going “crazy” or that there is something seriously wrong with them. Although there is not one set of symptoms that all trauma survivors experience, some of the more common effects of trauma are:
Re-experiencing the Traumatic Event
- Recurring nightmares about the trauma
- Intrusive distressing memories or flashbacks about the trauma
- Becoming upset when something reminds you of the trauma
Avoidance or Numbing
Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, activities, or situations associated
with the trauma
Difficulty remembering important parts of what happened during the trauma
Decreased interest or participation in previously enjoyed activities
Feelings of detachment, alienation, or disconnection from the world around
- Inability to have loving feelings or feel any strong emotions
- Exaggerated startle response (e.g., feeling “jumpy”)
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Constantly feeling watchful or “on guard”
Other Symptoms Associated with Experiencing Trauma
- Depression, despair, and hopelessness
- Fear and anxiety
- Anger and aggressive behavior toward oneself or others
- Self-blame, guilt, and shame
- Problems in interpersonal relationships
- Social isolation
- Problems with identity and self-esteem
- Problems with sexuality
- Feeling permanently damaged
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Problems with food and body image
- Physical health symptoms and problems
Recovery from psychological trauma is often a difficult and gradual process. When a trauma survivor takes direct action to cope with problems, they often feel a greater sense of personal power and control. Positive coping actions are those that help to reduce anxiety or other distressing reactions, and improve the situation in a way that does not harm the survivor further.