Do you think that this does not apply to you? Read on! What is post…
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Everything You Need to Know
Last Updated on
If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, you understand the troubling feelings that follow. You might have invasive memories or flashbacks to the event, general anxiety, or difficulties sleeping. It’s normal to feel on edge after a traumatic event but those feelings usually lessen after a few weeks.
Symptoms that persist longer than that might be a sign of something more serious. They could be indicators of post-traumatic stress disorder, often referred to as PTSD. You might have the condition if you’re still having difficulty getting back to your everyday life a few months after the event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious and complicated condition. People with PTSD experience intense and overwhelming thoughts and feelings as a result of their trauma. There are many layers to the disorder but it’s possible to relieve the symptoms and eventually cure the disorder.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder and how do you know if you have it? Who gets PTSD and how long does it last for? Does the disorder have a cure? Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about post-traumatic stress disorder.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
It’s normal to experience overwhelming fear during and soon after a traumatizing situation. Your body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in during the event and then a range of symptoms occur afterward. If your mind doesn’t properly process, work through, and move on from the event, though, you may still notice some fear responses months afterward.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that develops in some people after they experience a traumatic event. It doesn’t happen to every person who goes through a trauma. And not everyone with PTSD experienced a life-threatening event.
There are a variety of different situations that can lead to a post-traumatic stress disorder, such as:
- Living through a war as either a soldier or a civilian
- Severe car accidents
- Being kidnapped or held hostage
- Violent attacks, like a robbery or mugging
- Witnessing a violent attack or murder
- Being kidnapped or held hostage
- Extreme neglect, particularly during early childhood developmental years
- Sexual assault or sexual abuse, especially prolonged assault
- Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
- Natural disasters, such as an earthquake, flood, tornado, or fire
- Sudden loss of a loved one, like a family member or close friend
Many different kinds of sudden, surprising, and upsetting events may cause someone to develop PTSD. What exactly does that diagnosis mean, though?
What a PTSD Diagnosis Means
There is still some stigma attached to vulnerability and showing your feelings, even in today’s world. Some people believe that the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder mean they are weak. You might feel like you should be able to just “get over it” or handle your stress and the outcome of the situation better.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Receiving a PTSD diagnosis does not make you weak. Trauma affects people differently. Even if someone who experienced the event alongside you didn’t have the same response, they have no bearing on your condition.
A post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis means you’re one step closer to finding a solution to those problematic and invasive thoughts. You’re going to learn that the event was not your fault, nor is the way you responded to it. You’ll get to take action and develop new tools to face the world on your terms again.
You can start taking your life back into your own hands once you have a PTSD diagnosis. To start the process of healing from the impact of that trauma, though, it helps to understand more about post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Was PTSD Discovered?
Traumatic events are not new. There are countless cases of traumatizing experiences over the past centuries. From animal attacks during the earliest times to the high-tech wars of today, humans beings are not strangers to trauma.
Understandings of the way humans respond to trauma are more modern science, though. Soldiers returned from World War I with “shell shock” and from World War II with “combat fatigue.” But war is not the only type of traumatic event that results in overwhelming psychological and physical responses.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) first addressed post-traumatic stress disorder in 1980. They included the PTSD diagnosis when they released the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) that year.
Post-traumatic stress disorder started as a controversial diagnosis at first but quickly found its place in psychiatry. It played an important role in removing the idea that people with lasting symptoms related to their trauma are weak. Instead, it helped psychiatrists and doctors understand the overwhelming responses people have to trauma.
The APA’s addition of PTSD emphasizes the traumatic event as the cause of the disorder rather than a flaw in the individual. This new understanding made it possible to work effectively with individuals seeking relief from their overwhelming symptoms.
How does EMDR help with trauma? | Hawaii Island Recovery
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is highly effective in identifying and resolving the traumatic memories that can drive addiction.
Where Was PTSD First Diagnosed?
Post-traumatic stress disorder started as a condition used to diagnose symptoms seen in military veterans. The first attempts at diagnosing PTSD followed the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. Then the term “shell shock” was used in 1919 to describe the symptoms seen in World War I veterans.
World War II brought the terms “battle fatigue” and “combat stress reduction” to replace shell shock. These early attempts to diagnose the anxiety-based symptoms of combat veterans led to the condition we have today.
The condition saw its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual mention in 1952 in the DSM-I as “gross stress reaction.” The second edition eliminated this diagnosis but the third edition re-instated and named the condition as we know it today: post-traumatic stress disorder.
Why Does PTSD Happen?
It’s normal to feel some anxiety, fear, or depression after experiencing a traumatic event. They often shift the way you navigate your life during the days and weeks afterward. You’re likely to experience some flashbacks or avoid certain places while you heal. At some point, though, you usually return to the way life was before.
Some people aren’t able to get back to their everyday life, though. They still have invasive thoughts about the event or avoid things that remind them of it months after it happened. These symptoms, as well as a few others, are first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
A person develops PTSD when they aren’t able to properly process and work through their trauma. Instead, their symptoms continue haunting them months after the event and often interfere with their ability to carry out their daily responsibilities.
Anyone can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. It doesn’t matter whether they are young or old, male or female, rich or poor. PTSD does not discriminate. It’s a debilitating condition that touches upon almost every aspect of a person’s life.
But a PTSD diagnosis does not make someone weak. It isn’t a reflection of their ability to handle difficult situations or work through their struggles. PTSD is a complicated condition that requires intense intervention to relieve.
When Does PTSD Start?
Stress, anxiety, and fear are common during the first few days following an event. Traumatic events are not an easy thing for anyone to work through and everyone responds to trauma differently. There is no “right way” to work through a life-altering event.
Most people work through the traumatic experience without much need for intervention. They process the event and work through their feelings naturally then move forward. But some are still plagued by their symptoms after the first few weeks and months are over.
Post-traumatic stress disorder develops over time. Symptoms that persist for longer than three months, or that go away for a while then return months later, are an indication of PTSD. If you notice you’re still reacting to the event more than a few months afterward, you might want to visit a psychiatrist for an assessment.
How Does PTSD Develop?
Post-traumatic stress disorder develops over a few months rather than immediately. It’s difficult to tell right away whether someone will end up with the condition. There are a few factors that put some people more at risk than others for developing PTSD. These include things like:
- Living through multiple traumatic experiences
- Surviving ongoing trauma over a long time
- Traumatic experiences that took place during developmental years
- Receiving little or no support from family or friends after the event
- Having a history of substance abuse or mental illness
- Managing extreme stress after the event takes place
- Having limited access to resources if needed
There are also factors called resilience factors that contribute to helping avoid the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder. Resilience factors are things such as:
- Seeking support immediately after the traumatic event
- Surrounding yourself with supportive family and friends
- Finding a support group following the traumatic experience
- Maintaining positive self-esteem and self-image after the event
- Creating a coping strategy to work through the experience
Some research indicates that genetics may play a factor in risk and resilience factors. Additional studies will provide more definitive evidence about what leads someone to develop PTSD compared to someone who doesn’t.
Why is PTSD Classified as an Anxiety Disorder?
Up until the DSM-IV, post-traumatic stress disorder was classified as an anxiety disorder because it’s rooted in common symptoms of anxiety. However, the DSM-5 moved PTSD into a new category: Trauma- and Stressor-Related disorders.
The primary characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder is difficulty navigating the present because of traumatic events in the past. People who are diagnosed with PTSD experience symptoms that are split into four main categories:
- Re-experiencing symptoms
- Avoidance symptoms
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms
- Cognition and mood symptoms
Still, each of these groups contains a few anxiety-based symptoms. Those with PTSD seem to be in an ongoing state of “fight-or-flight” mode that started during the traumatic event. They often live with heightened anxiety that affects the way they approach their daily lives. Despite its move from the anxiety disorder class, it’s still an anxiety-ridden condition.
Who Can Get PTSD?
There aren’t any specific prerequisites that determine whether someone will develop PTSD. It can happen to anyone who lives through a traumatic event. People have likely experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder since the beginning of time. Traumatic situations are not a new phenomenon; they’ve simply evolved as society has progressed.
Assaults, violent attacks, and sudden deaths have always happened from the beginning of time. The difference is today’s understanding of how human beings process and respond to these types of events. Plenty of studies and research provide insight into who can get PTSD and how it happens.
People who develop post-traumatic stress disorder live with an unhealthy response to their trauma. It doesn’t matter whether they experienced time in combat, were in a severe car accident, or suddenly lost a loved one. Though they might display different symptoms, their response to their trauma is warped. Who can get PTSD?
PTSD Among Veterans
The post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis originated with soldiers who experienced active-duty combat in World War I. They were fatigued, fearful, stressed, crying, and experiencing flashbacks to their combat times. “Shell shock” emerged as the term used to describe these soldiers’ symptoms, then “combat fatigue” was later used during World War II.
Clinicians struggled to treat the intrusive memories and extended fight-or-flight responses soldiers brought back into their civilian lives. Charles Myers, a psychologist in the early 1900s, focused his work on studying and understanding these psychological disturbances. He contributed much to the initial understanding of PTSD among veterans today.
Shell shock and combat fatigue were conditions used specifically for combat veterans. The post-traumatic stress disorder used today is a more generic diagnosis. PTSD among veterans still refers to the fight-or-flight response that many soldiers return to civilian lives with.
Soldiers still return from present-day wars with distressing and disturbing memories. Thankfully, treatment for PTSD today is far more advanced than it was 100 years ago. Today, clinicians have a better understanding of how to work with these combat veterans.
Some clinicians specialize in working with veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. They use a combination of medication to relieve symptoms while they work through a soldier’s traumatic memories in therapy. Although some hesitate to seek help, treatment is often effective in relieving soldiers’ PTSD symptoms.
PTSD After Car Accident
If you’ve ever been in a car accident you understand what a jarring experience it can be. Both minor and severe car accidents shake you up for a few days afterward. It’s normal to feel nervous for your first few times getting behind the wheel of a car again. After those drives, though, you should be able to get back to driving regularly again.
Severe motor vehicle accidents can cause someone to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, though. Those that involve casualties are even more likely to cause PTSD. Survivors feel nervous and jumpy whether they’re in a car or not. They experience vivid flashbacks to the event which often lead to physical reactions, like jumpiness or increased heart rate.
PTSD after a car accident makes it difficult for people to start driving again. It’s challenging to face the risk of another possible accident which might keep people from driving for weeks or months afterward. Unless treated, these fears will increase as time passes and make it even harder to start driving again.
PTSD When Someone Dies
The sudden death of a loved one is another trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder. Losing a loved one, whether they were family or a close friend, is an overwhelming experience. It isn’t easy to cope with loss, especially unexpected loss.
It’s not uncommon for a person to develop PTSD when someone dies suddenly. The process of grief differs for everyone but you might find yourself stuck in a certain phase that you struggle to overcome. You might also notice that you experience different symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder depending on the way your loved one dies.
Seeking grief counseling or therapy is an important part of the process. You might notice lasting symptoms if you avoid asking for help. A counselor or therapist will walk you through a healthy grieving process. This gives you a better chance of returning to your life without carrying detrimental beliefs or behaviors along with you.
PTSD Without a Traumatic Event
It’s possible to develop PTSD without a traumatic event, at least in terms of what people tend to consider traumatic. Post-traumatic stress disorder is usually associated with extreme events like combat, violent attacks, or sexual assault. What counts as a traumatic event is unique to every individual, though.
Something that might not feel traumatic to one person may shatter another person’s idea of safety and comfort. When someone develops symptoms of PTSD as a result of a typically “non-traumatic” event, they may feel guilty or shameful. They might avoid talking about or seeking help for what’s going on.
Responding this way only makes their symptoms worse and deepens their feelings of guilt and shame. The truth is that developing PTSD without a traumatic event can happen. You might experience a life-changing event like a broken bone that might not seem traumatic but can similarly affect you.
Don’t let the thoughts of others keep you from seeking treatment for possible symptoms of PTSD. Try to avoid thinking that what you experienced wasn’t “traumatic enough.” Seek out a therapist if you notice that PTSD symptoms affect your daily life. They can walk you through the experience and help relieve any lasting symptoms.