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What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that, through the years, has been referred to as “shell shock” and “combat fatigue” because it affected soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II. Approximately 8 million people experience PTSD in any given year. Whereas PTSD was not always recognized for what it was, today more attention is drawn to this disorder so that the victims of PTSD can get the treatment they need and deserve.

What is PTSD?

PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) is a psychiatric disorder that happens to people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Although the people most commonly affected by PTSD were soldiers who were in combat, PTSD can result from various types of traumatic events, including terrorist acts, war, serious accidents, violent personal attacks like rape or assault, or natural disasters.

PTSD is not limited to a certain ethnicity or gender but can occur in all people and of any age. However, women are more likely to be affected by PTSD than men are. The American Psychiatric Association reports that about 3.5% of the adults in the United States suffer from PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

Although symptoms can vary not only in severity but from one person to another, they generally fall into four categories.

  • Intrusive thoughts – These may include flashbacks of a traumatic event frightening dreams or consistent, involuntary memories. The thoughts or memories can seem so real that the person often feels like the event is happening all over again right before their eyes, making them re-live the experience.
  • Avoiding things that remind them of the traumatic event – They may avoid certain people, activities, situations or even places that might bring on the memories. PTSD sufferers may also resist or refuse to talk about their feelings and what happened to them.
  • Negative thoughts about themselves or others – Their feelings may often appear to be almost paranoid and filled with fear, shame, anger and even disinterest in things that previously interested them. Some may even have suicidal thoughts.
  • Having sudden outbursts – They may have angry outbursts, be easily frightened or behave in a reckless manner. They may also have trouble sleeping or focusing.

Diagnosing PTSD

In order for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made, the individual must exhibit the symptoms for at least a month. In many cases, the symptoms continue for months or even years. Some people with PTSD develop symptoms within a couple of months of the traumatic event, while others may not show symptoms until much later. The individual may have small symptoms or may have severe issues.

To accurately diagnose PTSD, the person must have exposure to a distressing traumatic event. For instance, a person may go through a traumatic event like an assault but may not show PTSD symptoms until he has exposure to another upsetting event such as a family death. Victims of PTSD may also suffer from substance abuse, memory problems, depression, and other mental health or physical problems.

Treatment for PTSD

The treatment for PTSD can depend on the individual, the severity of the symptoms or the specialist treating the person. In some cases, the person may get better on their own over time, but many others must seek professional treatment. Treatment might be one or more of the following.

  • Group Therapy – This involves other PTDS sufferers meeting together and sharing their traumatic events
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy – This helps the person come to grips with frightening memories and modifying negative emotions
  • Prolonged exposure therapy – This uses repeated and specific images of the traumatic event to trigger the PTSD symptoms but in a controlled and safe environment
  • Medication – This is used to help control the PTSD symptoms, relax the individual and help with sleep.
  • Alternative therapies – These might include animal-assisted therapy, acupuncture or even outpatient therapy.

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People suffering from PTSD often have a difficult time functioning in society. With treatment as well as understanding and compassion from society, PTSD sufferers have a good chance of getting better and retaining the life they had before the traumatic event.