Fact: Not every traumatized person develops PTSD
WHAT IS PTSD ?
“Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience. PTSD sufferers re-experience the traumatic event or events in some way, tend to avoid places, people, or other things that remind them of the event (avoidance), and are exquisitely sensitive to normal life experiences (hyperarousal).” - Medicinenet.com
It's normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.
If it's been longer than a few months and you're still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
What factors affect who develops PTSD?
PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person's control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.
Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.
The symptoms of PTSD fall into the following categories.
- Intrusive Memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and scary thoughts.
- Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or having trouble remembering the traumatic event.
- Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
- Hypervigilance, which can include being startled very easily, feeling tense, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
For more detailed information on PTSD symptoms, please visit HealMyPTSD
Over the last 5 years, research on 1–6 year olds found that young children can develop PTSD, and the symptoms are quite different from those of adults. These findings also saw an increase in PTSD diagnoses in young children by more than 8 times when using the newer criteria. Symptoms in young children can include:
- Acting out scary events during playtime
- Forgetting how/being unable to talk
- Being excessively clingy with adults
- Extreme temper tantrums, as well as overly aggressive behavior
When to see a doctor
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they're severe, or if you feel you're having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Get treatment as soon as possible to help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.
If you have suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Make an appointment with your doctor, mental health provider or other health care professional.
Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months after a traumatic event, but occasionally emerge years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder.
People can describe symptoms in a variety of ways. How a person describes symptoms often depends on the cultural lens she is looking through. In Western cultures, people generally talk about their moods or feelings, whereas in many Eastern cultures, people more commonly refer to physical pain. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be misdiagnosed, so they should look for a health care professional who understands their background and shares their expectations for treatment.
Because young children have emerging abstract cognitive and limited verbal expression, research indicates that diagnostic criteria needs to be more behaviorally anchored and developmentally sensitive to detect PTSD in preschool children.
PTSD is treated and managed in several ways.
- Medications, including mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants.
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy.
- Self-management strategies, such as "self-soothing". Many therapy techniques, including mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring her back to reality after a dissociative episode or a flashback.
- Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD
Want to learn more?
The following are organizations and/or websites dedicated to providing information and education surrounding Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). These organizations are dedicated to research, education, awareness, and/or support. They are listed in Alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.
Heal My PTSD
National Institute of Mental Health
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs