Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness made up of a number of symptoms that occur after having gone through a traumatic event. What’s important to note is that you don’t have to have directly experienced the event to have PTSD—people with PTSD can have this disorder as a result of just witnessing an event.
According to The National Center for PTSD, you can develop PTSD at any age, and it can happen to any person. All that matters is that one experiences a traumatic event.
Causes of PTSD / Risk Factors for PTSD
PTSD is usually associated with rape/sexual assault and combat, but there are many different types of traumatic events that can cause PTSD, including:
- Rape or sexual assault (including child molestation)
- Severe injury (being shot, car accidents)
- Natural disaster (being in an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane)
- Combat (being shot, seeing friends getting shot)
- Threats (being threatened with death or violence, having your loved ones threatened)
- Terrorist attacks (watching people being killed, being injured by a bomb, being shot)
- Other types of disasters (plane crashes, building collapse)
- Witnessing a family member or friend experience these events
This is not a complete list of the causes of PTSD. Any event that is deemed traumatic by the person who experienced it is enough to qualify as PTSD.
For example, if someone is terrified of being on a plane, and they must take a plane ride, it can absolutely be the case that they can develop PTSD as a result.
It is important not to discount the actual cause of PTSD as this can keep the sufferer from seeking treatment. No matter the cause, if the symptoms are present, PTSD has likely occurred.
Symptoms of PTSD
According to Psychiatry.org, there are several categories of symptoms of PTSD:
- Alterations in cognition and mood
- Alterations in arousal and reactivity
Intrusion simply means that thoughts and feelings, dreams, or memories about the traumatic event or related to the event intrude on your awareness. They are not something you are actively seeking out. You are not trying to remember the event—rather, you can’t get those memories out of your head.
This can also manifest as so-called “flashbacks,” which are memories of the event that are so vivid they can feel like they are happening again.
Avoidance is straightforward—it is the act of avoiding anything associated with the event. This may mean you avoid talking about or thinking about the event, or you may avoid situations where you would be “triggered” into thinking about or experiencing the event.
Alterations in Cognition and Mood
This can be complex and manifest in a variety of ways.
You may be experiencing symptoms that include the following:
- A change in the way you think about yourself
- Distortions of the event itself
- A change in the way you think about other people
- Detachment from yourself, others, or your own life
- Relationship problems
Alterations in Arousal and Reactivity
This is what is commonly known as being “triggered,” which means that events or experiences that would normally not be problematic now make you react in a different way.
For example, if you used to enjoy car rides, and then got into a terrible car wreck and developed PTSD as a result, your reaction toward cars might change—you might become terrified just seeing a car.
This can also manifest as paranoia, anger, or self-destruction.
Treatments for PTSD
Working with mental health professionals through some form of talk therapy is the main way to treat PTSD. This is often known as cognitive processing therapy. Many mental health problems can occur because of PTSD, so it’s important to work with a therapist as soon as possible.
Joining a support group is another way you can work through your PTSD. It can help tremendously to be around those who understand what you have gone through and can help you to realize that your experiences are common, that you are not alone.
Some medications, like antidepressants or anxiety medications, can help you deal with the symptoms of PTSD, but they do not treat the root causes.
Finally, prolonged exposure therapy, where you are repeatedly exposed to triggers, with the goal of rendering them harmless, is another treatment for PTSD.
Learn More About Clinical Studies in Boston for PTSD
Have you been diagnosed with PTSD? You may qualify for a clinical study on PTSD.