Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Recognizing the symptoms

If you are experiencing PTSD you will need the help of a mental health professional.

People who are exposed to traumatic events could develop PTSD.
People who are exposed to traumatic events could develop PTSD.
Foto: KellyP42 / Morguefile

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that some people get after exposure to traumatic events. A traumatic event involves threat of death, injury, or other physical harm through war, disaster, or abuse. In some cases, persons who witness the event experienced by others are affected in the same way.

The experience of the event results in an emotional response of fear, helplessness, and horror. Both adults and children can experience PTSD, and this usually starts within three months of a traumatic event.

The specific symptoms resulting from these experiences are generally grouped into three categories. These are reliving or re-experiencing the events, avoiding situations that are reminders, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyperarousal).

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with PTSD re-experience or relive the traumatic event they experienced. Usually this happens through flashbacks which are intrusive and distressing thoughts or images that recall the traumatic event. They might also experience disturbing dreams associated with the traumatic situation. Frightening thoughts typically come with physical symptoms such as a racing heart and sweating.

Situations and objects could serve as reminders of the events and trigger re-experiencing. The person may experience intense distress when he or she is exposed to the reminders of the traumatic event. These symptoms could cause problems in his or her everyday routine, as they inhibit effective functioning.

PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. For example, they avoid thoughts or conversations about the event. In addition, they try to stay away from activities, places, and even people associated with the trauma they experienced.

They may experience feelings of numbness, and lose interest in activities that were important to them. They might also have difficulty concentrating, and find it hard to recall some important aspects of the event.

These symptoms could result in a person changing his or her personal routine, for example, driving on a different street to avoid the one where he or she was involved in a serious accident. This could also adversely affect social interactions with other people.

One such symptom is increased emotional arousal that could be described as being “keyed up.” In this regard, people with PTSD become easily irritable and angry. Often PTSD sufferers have difficulty sleeping. They may also experience an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame. This could result in signs of depression and sadness, even suicidal thoughts.

PTSD could have a long term impact on a person’s functioning, and so early treatment is essential. If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) you will need to get the help of a trained mental health professional. You counselor could help you to learn useful techniques to deal with the disorder.