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What is PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Updated November 29, 2012

What is PTSD

PTSD affects many veterans.

Roza @Dreamstime.com

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It can be a disabling condition that results from experiencing a stressful, traumatic event. People of all ages and backgrounds may develop PTSD, and the reactions vary from person to person. While many individuals experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, they often learn to cope and move on after the experience. In some cases, however, the individual may become depressed, anxious and unable to forget the traumatic event, leaving them disabled and unable to function normally.

Causes of PTSD

There are many different causes of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the severity of the symptoms depends on the individual and the event they experienced. Some causes of include car accidents, natural disasters, physical abuse, sexual abuse and combat situations. Stress-related reactions occur because an individual feels they don’t have complete control over what is going on around them. Some individuals are able to cope after a traumatic experience, while others develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of PTSD

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD , symptoms of may appear right after a traumatic event, slightly longer after the event, or the symptoms may come and go. There are four types of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and they are as follows:

  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms) – An individual may experience bad memories or nightmares. They may even feel as if they are experiencing the event again (known as a flashback).
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event – The individual may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. They may avoid talking or thinking about the event.
  • Feeling numb – It may be hard for an individual to express his or her feelings. They may avoid activities they previously enjoyed. This is another way to avoid memories.
  • Feeling keyed up – An individual may feel jittery, or feel like they must always be alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as hyperarousal.

Treatment of PTSD

Many individuals do not seek treatment after a traumatic event, often because they feel ashamed of being weak or they believe that their symptoms will go away on their own. The military, however, is making an effort to identify those at risk for PTSD post-deployment psychological evaluations. Police departments usually send out letters offering victims of assault information on counseling, should they decide to act upon it. National and international assistance organizations, such as the Red Cross, also try to help after a natural disaster by offering counseling during recovery efforts. However, not everyone is able to take advantage of counseling opportunities, either because they aren’t sure where to get help, or because they are afraid they may not be able to afford it.

Individuals who receive some form of counseling are able to share their feelings in a safe environment either directly with a counselor or with a group of individuals who share a similar experience. Oftentimes, being able to share feelings about an event can help those suffering with PTSD to finally let go of the event. It can help alleviate feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety, all of which can prevent an individual from living a normal life.

The scope of the counseling sessions (whether individual or group), as well as medications for anxiety, depression or insomnia, are determined by a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Outcomes after Counseling

Individuals who receive counseling often are better equipped to cope with their feelings. There are a number of therapies available that can help individuals, such as cognitive behavior therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. While some are able to deal well with their traumatic event after counseling, they may never be completely “cured” and may seek counseling in the future as needed.

If you, or someone you are a caregiverfor, is struggling to cope after a traumatic event, seek counseling. Most counseling centers are able to provide services whether or not you are able to pay for them. There is help available for those who seek it; there is no need to suffer in silence.

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