Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can occur after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It is important to note that not everyone who goes through such an event will develop PTSD, and not all those who do experience the same symptoms. It is important to understand what PTSD is, how it manifests itself, and what treatments are available for it.
What Causes PTSD?
Let’s take a look at some of the most common triggers for this debilitating disorder.
Exposure to Trauma
The most common cause of PTSD is exposure to a traumatic event, such as an accident, an assault, or a natural disaster. In these cases, the event itself serves as the trigger for the development of PTSD symptoms. Even if one does not experience it directly, witnessing another person experiencing trauma can also be enough to trigger PTSD in some individuals.
Living with Chronic Stress
Living with chronic stress can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder in some individuals. This includes situations such as living in poverty or being exposed to violence over an extended period of time without any reprieve. In these cases, it is not necessarily one particular event that triggers PTSD but rather the ongoing stress that eventually leads to its onset.
Research suggests that certain genetic factors may also play a role in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals with certain genetic markers may be more susceptible to developing PTSD than those without them. While this does not mean they will automatically develop PTSD after experiencing trauma, they may be more likely than others to do so if exposed to sufficient levels of trauma over time.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) from either physical trauma or oxygen deprivation can lead to long-term cognitive deficits and psychological issues such as depression and anxiety — both of which are major risk factors for developing PTSD in those affected by TBI.
Substance abuse is often linked with mental health conditions such as PTSD because it affects how our brains process and respond to different stimuli. Substance abusers often use drugs and alcohol to cope with stressful situations, but this behavior only serves to further exacerbate their underlying mental health issues.
People of all ages can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, certain factors can make you more likely to develop PTSD after an accident, such as:
Suffers severe or prolonged trauma
Suffering from other traumas earlier in life, such as childhood abuse
Having a job that increases your exposure to dangerous situations, such as the military and first responders
Have other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
Have a substance use problem, such as excessive alcohol or drug use
There is no real support system from family and friends
Having blood relatives with mental health problems, including anxiety or depression
To diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, your doctor will need:
Get a physical exam to check for medical problems that may be causing your symptoms
Do a psychological analysis that includes a discussion of your signs and symptoms and the event or event leading up to it
Use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
A diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an event involving a real fear of death, violence, or serious injury. Your exposure may occur in one or more of the following ways:
You get the immediate reaction
You see, yourself, bad things happening to other people
You learn that your partner has experienced or been threatened by the horrific event
You are repeatedly exposed to graphic descriptions of hazards (for example, if you are a first responder at the scene of an accident)
How Does PTSD Affect People?
The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person based on the type of trauma experienced. In general, however, people with PTSD may have difficulty controlling their emotions and thoughts related to the traumatic event(s). They may also experience flashbacks in which they feel like they are reliving the event or having vivid memories as if it were happening in real time again.
Other symptoms include anxiety and panic attacks; avoidance of activities and places associated with the trauma; feeling ‘on edge’ or irritable; depression and low self-esteem; nightmares; changes in sleep patterns; difficulty concentrating; hypervigilance; physical reactions such as increased heart rate when reminded of the trauma; and difficulty trusting others.
Treatments for PTSD
There are several different treatment options available for people with PTSD including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy/talk therapy (PT), medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), art therapy/music therapy/drama therapy/expressive therapies (AT), yoga/meditation/breathing techniques (YM), support groups/counseling sessions (SG), virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), acupuncture/acupressure (ACU). Each approach has its own benefits but ultimately it is up to the individual patient to decide what works best for them.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects millions of people each year due to various types of traumas they have experienced or witnessed. Understanding what causes this disorder can help individuals recognize when they need help so they can seek treatment options tailored specifically for them. Treatment plans may include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy sessions, medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, EMDR, expressive therapies, yoga/meditation practices, support groups, virtual reality exposure therapy, and acupuncture/acupressure. Knowing what these treatments are available can give individuals hope in finding relief from their symptoms so they can begin healing emotionally from their past traumas.
After surviving an accident, many people first experience PTSD-like symptoms, such as being unable to stop thinking about what happened. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and guilt are normal reactions to trauma. However, most people who experience trauma do not develop long-term anxiety disorders.
Getting help and support early can prevent normal stress reactions from escalating into PTSD. This may mean reaching out to family and friends who will listen and comfort them. This may mean seeking a mental health professional for a brief course of treatment. Some people may also find reaching out to their faith community helpful.
Support from others can also prevent you from developing unhealthy habits, such as alcohol or drug abuse.