After a shocking event, some people don’t completely recover. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that last longer than a month require treatment.
Fear can trigger changes in your body within seconds. In some people, that fear lingers after a shocking event is over and interferes with their lives.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and causes
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may become apparent years later, though usually they arrive within three months. The cause is trauma, a shocking experience. You don’t need to be a veteran or lose your home in a tornado to have PTSD. The event might be as ordinary — but as painful — as a car accident that kills someone you love, physical or sexual abuse, or even a concussion on a football field.
To diagnose PTSD, a mental health expert looks for certain signs lasting at least a month. The tell-tale sign is re-experiencing the trauma in some way, with flashbacks, bad dreams, or fearful thoughts.
People with PTSD change their behavior to avoid reminders of the trauma. A mother who lost a son might avoid driving by his school or seeing his friends on the street. Anyone with PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the condition.
Psychiatrists also look for evidence that your emotional state has become more unsettled, even without reminders. You might be jumpy, fly into rages, or develop insomnia.
PTSD affects your mood and ability to think. You might blank out on details of the trauma or relive them as if they are occurring right now. You might seem depressed, guilty, or ashamed or detached from friends and family and your usual pleasures.
It’s normal to see some of these post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after a trauma. In a study of athletes who had suffered a concussion, nearly 26 percent had difficulty sleeping afterwards, and more than 19 percent confessed to avoiding similar situations. Nearly 18 percent checked off having trouble keeping thoughts of the incident out of your head. Nearly 13 percent reported flashbacks and 8 percent nightmares.
In acute stress disorder, symptoms are serious but can go away within a month. If they last longer and affect your ability to function — and can’t be explained by substance abuse or another cause — you might have PTSD.
Even in areas that endure a disaster, most people do not develop PTSD. You’re more vulnerable if, like veterans, you see a dead body, see other people hurt, or suffer an injury. Other risk factors are a history of mental illness or substance abuse or trauma as a child. An increase in stress after the event — for example, if you lose your home or face financial problems after losing a spouse — can trigger PTSD.
A child under the age of six with PTSD might wet the bed even after being toilet-trained, lose the ability to talk, become unusually clingy, or act out the event during playtime. Older children and teens are likely to have the adult symptoms and may start acting out.
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment
To protect yourself, you should talk to your doctor or mental health professional, learn lessons from the event, and feel good about how you respond to the challenge of trying to overcome your condition.
The main treatments for PTSD are medications and talk therapy, ideally with someone who understands PTSD. You’ll need to learn how to identify triggers and ways to manage anger or relax. You may also need to address other issues like abusive relationships or bad habits that existed before the trauma but are making it more difficult to recover.
Antidepressants can help PTSD symptoms. Although is not approved for this purpose, the medication Prazosin may improve sleep problems linked to PTSD. Electroconvulsive therapy is showing positive results, as is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (or EMDR). Mindfulness treatment may also help.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, you might be encouraged to imagine the event or return to the place where it occurred to face your fear, as you might remember the event inaccurately or feel inappropriate shame or guilt.
Taking healthy steps can also help you recover: Exercise, set and meet realistic goals, and spend time with people who care about you.
July 21, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN