What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a form of psychological disorder that is a response to a traumatic event. In many cases the event that causes post traumatic stress disorder is something severe and threatening to the person's sense of identity if not to their life.

The stressful event may be something easily identifiable such as being raped (a major cause of PTSD in both men and women), being involved in a major accident or natural disaster, war combat, etc. For example, soldiers returning from the First World War suffered from something described at the time as 'shell shock' which has now been identified as post traumatic stress disorder.

Alternatively, the stressful event could be much less obvious and in some cases, the memory of it may be buried. An example would be abuse in childhood that manifests as PTSD in an adult.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

– constant thoughts and memories of the incident(s), including flashbacks
– nightmares
– feeling stressed and upset by any reminder of the incident, such as news of similar incidents
– avoiding any reminder of the incident e.g. not wanting to talk about it, or avoiding places, people or activities that are associated with it
– losing interest in things and people that were previously important in one's life
– depression
– insomnia
– irritability and mood swings
– difficulty concentrating
– feeling constantly 'on guard' and afraid

Some symptoms are natural responses to stress and would not be classed as a stress disorder if they were temporary, ending when the danger or stressful situation was over. PTSD will only be diagnosed if they are prolonged after the traumatic event is over and the person is safe.

Equally, it is not necessary to have all of these symptoms in order for PTSD to be diagnosed. A few of the symptoms combined with identification of a traumatic event is usually enough for a diagnosis.

It is very important that anybody suffering from PTSD should receive treatment. Unless a person has very strong supportive relationships with a spouse or partner and other family and friends, it is very difficult to live with the symptoms of untreated post traumatic stress disorder without resorting to drug or alcohol abuse, self-harm, eating disorders or other unhealthy practices.

Post traumatic stress disorder is so named because it is a response to an intensely stressful event or series of events. However, it is classified and treated as an anxiety disorder rather than being treated like other forms of stress. Some stress management techniques may be helpful but in most cases PTSD requires diagnosis by and help from a doctor or trained counselor.

Sufferers of PTSD often need reassurance that their post traumatic stress disorder is not their fault. They should not feel stigmatized by it. It is a natural, protective response of the human system to being put in an extremely threatening situation.

Anybody going through the same thing could have a similar response, although it may be more severe in some people than in others because of their state of mind at the time of the incident, the strength of their supportive relationships, and their past history of traumatic incidents. So people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder should not be ashamed to seek help.


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