Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a severe trauma. The individual numbs herself to the pain, experiences ongoing anxiety, and is upset by memories of the trauma that invade her days and nights. Individuals with PTSD may also be angry, irritable, depressed, and unable to experience healthy relationships. They will avoid all reminders of the trauma and may turn to alcohol, drugs, and other addictions to numb their emotions. Some also develop eating disorders, cut themselves, or attempt suicide. Whether an individual develops PTSD depends on a number of factors related to support, coping mechanisms, and individual strengths.

According to the revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR, 2000), a person must have experienced a traumatic event which included:

  • Actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical safety of self or others
  • Feelings of fear, horror, or hopelessness or, in children, distress, disturbance, and confusion

Characteristic symptoms fall into three major categories:

  1. Reexperiencing the event
  • Intrusive memories of the event
  • Nightmares or distressing dreams
  • Feeling like the event is reoccuring, such as flashbacks or hallucinations, and, in children, reenacting the event
  • Distress at internal or external reminders of the event
  • Physical reactions to these reminders
  • Avoidance of reminders of the event

2. Avoiding anything related to the trauma

  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations
  • Avoiding people, places, activities
  • Lost memory
  • Less interest and involvement in activities
  • Feeling detached and isolated from others
  • Inability to feel emotions
  • Reduced expectations about future

3. Symptoms of increased arousal

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and anger
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Hypervigilance, always on the alert
  • Exaggerated startle response such as abrupt reactions to noise

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