Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD refers to a range of symptoms that are experienced after being exposed to a traumatic event or series of events.  These traumatic events range from experience of war, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, robbery, assault or car accidents. Sometimes PTSD arises from witnessing the trauma of another person.  The events usually involve threat to the person’s life or physical integrity and the immediate feelings are helplessness, horror and/or intense fear.

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. Women are twice as likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder as men, and children can also develop it. PTSD often occurs with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.

Symptoms
The symptoms that commonly occur in people suffering from PTSD have been divided into three categories:  intrusions; hyper-alertness; and avoidance.

Intrusions: Re-experiencing the events as flashbacks or nightmares that occur suddenly, without conscious control.  These are very distressing, disrupting sleep and normal activities of life.

Hyperalertness: A state of hypervigilance or increased sensitivity to things such as a phone ringing or the sudden appearance of a person which leads to a physical reaction (e.g. jumping with fear; feeling nauseous) which is out of proportion to the stimulus.  The person is edgy, agitated and appears to be on the lookout for a perceived danger.

Avoidance:  The person tends to avoid anything (e.g. certain places, going out at night, being alone) that may result in a memory of or a feeling from the original traumatic experience.  This symptom particularly impacts upon interpersonal relationships.  The person may report feeling emotionally numb; unable to experience their usual feelings for people and things, and will often act very impersonally to people with whom they are closest.

Other characteristic symptoms of PTSD
Often the person finds it difficult to trust others or to feel safe and secure anywhere.  As this continues the person becomes detached from friends, colleagues and family, thus adding to his/her isolation.  Furthermore, the person may experience physical signs such as rapid breathing, sweating and becoming agitated.  Poor sleep patterns (due to insomnia and nightmares) affect concentration and memory, and thus can lead to deterioration of work and study performance.

Treatment
The main treatments for people with PTSD are cognitive-behavioural therapy (including exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring), medications, or both.

Exposure therapy. This therapy helps people face and control their fear by exposing them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing, or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings.

Cognitive restructuring. This therapy helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way.

Source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America

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