Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, in simple terms, is a mental health condition that lasts for months or even years. And is recognized by an inability to manage or recover from exposure to a traumatic incident.
According to a report by the European Journal of Psychotraumotology on American Psychological Association, the following are classic cases of PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder. The Veteran Affairs website says that it affects 6 out of 100 people in the US.
23-year-old war veteran Tom witnessed immense brutality in Iraq. He had a hard time coping with the horrors of the war and experienced severe trauma for years.
As per another recorded case, after barely scraping through alive in a terrible road accident, 60-year-old Philip was deeply traumatized by flashbacks of the incident.
He was troubled by frequent sweaty nightmares, experienced multiple hyperarousal symptoms, had lost his focus entirely, and even had trouble sleeping at night.
Gradually, the trauma memories got to him. And Philips also fell into severe depression, became irritable, avoided roads or outdoor activities to the point that he started developing extreme anxiety and imagining accidents happening whenever he had to drive.
What is PTSD?
An individual can develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD after being exposed to severe mental trauma. It goes beyond bad experiences scarring them for life, causing intense anxiety due to intrusive thoughts about the traumatic past on almost a daily basis.
PTSD affects certain people and is more likely to impact people who generally have trouble coping with trauma.
Every individual has a differently wired brain, so the natural reactions to traumatic events can differ from person to person. Some succeed in getting over them, while others with weaker coping mechanisms fall prey to PTSD.
Road accidents, sexual or physical assault, war casualties, bullying, etc., are some of the events that can trigger PTSD in people, especially if these incidents cause excessive physical and emotional harm to them.
People with disabilities, people of color, and individuals belonging to the LGBTQ community are even more vulnerable to PTSD symptoms resulting from trauma caused by mistreatment and racism.
Prevalence of PTSD in the US
In the year 2020, PTSD impacted around 13% of the population in the US, and it was more commonly observed in women than in men. They are twice as likely to suffer probably due to a higher prevalence of rape, domestic physical and sexual abuse.
Veterans also have a higher prevalence of PTSD than the general population.
As per the Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders by David H Barlow, many deployed American veterans reported traumatic experiences during their military services in Iraq. And some of them who struggled to deal with the stress had no option but to resort to CPT or Cognitive Processing Therapy while being on active duty.
For example, one of the serving veterans in the Infantry specifically spoke about what triggered his PTSD. He mentioned a horrific incident where he felt guilty for shooting a pregnant Iraqi mother and her unborn child.
Another anxiety-provoking event for him was the suicide of his fellow army man, which he thought he could have prevented.
To know if you have PTSD, you must be aware of the primary causes as well as the key symptoms.
The initial signs would usually take some time to develop and become apparent. But it is always important to be well informed so you can treat the condition on time and deal with it the right way.
Causes of PTSD
PTSD can be induced by severely traumatizing experiences that last for an extended period of time.
You are more likely to develop PTSD if you are genetically predisposed to it with a history of mental illness in your family.
In some cases, people with other comorbidities, such as anxiety or depression, are more vulnerable to developing PTSD. The moment these individuals witness a sudden traumatic event, their already compromised mental state automatically becomes a victim of PTSD.
In theory, PSTD symptoms are like a naturally occurring protective response to danger based on previous trauma. This sensation can help you tackle crisis situations, but excessive hyperarousal makes your recovery process harder.
Here are some known causes of PTSD:
- Genetic reasons – fetus exposed to stress when in the womb, passing on trauma from mothers to their offspring
- Changes in certain emotion-regulating regions of the brain – smaller hippocampus observed in most PTSD patients
- Extremely high levels of fight or flight hormones are produced and released even when the situation is not dangerous
- Abnormally excessive amounts of stress chemicals like adrenaline are released in the body due to an overreaction of your body to stressful events for survival.
War, violent conflicts, long-term sexual abuse, death of loved ones, occupational stress, etc, are primary PTSD-inducing experiences. But it is still quite unclear as to why it only affects a selective bunch of patients more than others.
Symptoms of PTSD
Fear and stress are general responses to trauma, but PTSD patients report beyond-normal intrusive experiences for longer durations, severely affecting their everyday routines. These are the key signs and symptoms you should be aware of:
- Neurological symptoms or abnormalities
- Cardiovascular discomfort
- Excessive anxiety and depression
- Erratic sleeping patterns
- Insomnia and flashbacks
- Excessive perspiration and panic attacks
- Hypervigilance and aggression
- Bouts of nausea and vomiting
- Intense memories and metaphorical reminders of traumatic events
- Loss of excitement in day-to-day work or activities
- A constant sense of dread and isolation
- Frequent nightmares with palpitations
- Avoidance of feelings and concerning thoughts
Types of PTSD
Depending on the intensity of the symptoms, there are five major types of PTSD.
1. Complex PTSD
This is diagnosed in patients whose trauma occurred at a very young age and continued unchecked, untreated for years.
2. Comorbid PTSD
This type of PTSD has a higher prevalence as it co-occurs in patients along with several other mental conditions.
3. Birth Trauma PTSD
This is generally experienced by women who have had a painful and complicated pregnancy.
4. Uncomplicated PTSD
As the name suggests, this type of PTSD is quite straightforward as it can easily be diagnosed and treated by linking it to a specific traumatic incident from the past.
5. Delayed Onset PTSD
In this case, the symptoms do not appear until over 6 months following the trigger or traumatic event.
PTSD Diagnosis and Treatment
A detailed psychological examination is recommended to evaluate the underlying medical conditions as well as discuss past events that may have triggered trauma.
A patient must satisfy the conditions for a confirmed diagnosis of PTSD as stated in the DSM-5 manual by the American Psychiatric Association.
Your symptoms so far and how they have been progressing will also be thoroughly checked by licensed psychiatric practitioners for proper diagnosis. This is the first step to getting the right treatment for PTSD.
The following are the best treatment protocols for PTSD. However, which one to use and whether to prescribe medication will depend on your diagnosis.
This includes psychological talk therapy based on various approaches such as CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EFT or Emotion Focused Therapy, Exposure Therapy, etc.
CBT can help with identifying and changing dysfunctional thought patterns to inculcate positive behavior.
Exposure therapy helps you develop coping skills and battle past traumas. This technique can specifically be effective in reducing the frequency of nightmares.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
This method modifies one’s response to a traumatic past using a combination of exposure therapy and a peculiar sequence of directed eye movements.
Patients can also participate in group therapy sessions to connect with like-minded people and learn from others’ experiences.
In extremely severe cases of PTSD, medications can be lifesavers. The FDA has authorized the use of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) for PTSD.
Anti-depressants and anxiety medications are prescribed only if required. Because these medications come with potential side effects and must be taken under the supervision of a certified psychiatrist for a limited period of time.
Your doctor will advise you on choosing drugs with the best results and the least possible adverse effects.
Keep the below tips in mind to make your PTSD treatment journey better:
- Keep educating yourself and others around you
- Avoid misuse of medication, if prescribed
- Stay in contact with your loved ones and support groups
- Cultivate a healthy lifestyle
- Your doctor should be your first point of contact for any doubts and emergencies
- Diligently execute your treatment plan without deviating.
You will definitely have a great recovery with awesome results.
Can PTSD be cured permanently? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “No.” But you need not be disheartened because there are many effective approaches to tackling PTSD to help you live a perfectly normal life, just like the non-PTSD people around you.
Therefore, it is important to seek professional help if you feel extremely disoriented and disturbed by your traumatic past. It may or may not be PTSD. So, first things first, get yourself evaluated by a mental health expert to get all your doubts out of the way.
Also, reaching out for help may be overwhelming in the beginning, but you would be relieved to know that you are not alone. You can make your PTSD worse if you hesitate to take it up with your doctor or psychiatrist. So, be brave! You got this 🙂
She is an experienced Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health Writer with a decade of expertise in psychology. Skilled in assessment, therapy, and patient care. Committed to helping individuals through clinical practice and mental health writing at Therapyjourney.co. Passionate about promoting mental well-being and awareness. Open to aligned opportunities.