Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population—about 9 million individuals. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms.

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What Is It?

PTSD a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.

The Science Behind It

PTSD can occur at any age and is directly associated with exposure to trauma. Adults and children who have PTSD represent a relatively small portion of those who have been exposed to trauma. This difference is not yet well understood but we do know that there are risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood to develop PTSD. Risk factors can include  prior experiences of trauma, and factors that may promote resilience, such as social support.

Warning Signs

A diagnosis of PTSD requires a discussion with a trained professional. Symptoms of PTSD generally fall into these broad categories:

  • Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
  • Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
  • Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
  • Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by stimuli that resembles the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.

Young children can also develop PTSD, and the symptoms are different from those of adults. (This recent recognition by the field is a major step forward and research is ongoing.) Young children lack the ability to convey some aspects of their experience. Behavior (e.g. clinging to parents) is often a better clue than words, and developmental achievements in an impacted child might slip back (e.g. reversion to not being toilet trained in a 4-year-old).

It is essential that a child be assessed by a professional who is skilled in the developmental responses to stressful events. A pediatrician or child mental health clinician can be a good start.

Common Misconceptions

PTSD affects someone immediately after a traumatic ordeal. If time has passed, someone is no longer at risk for PTSD

While symptoms for PTSD often arise within the first 3 months after a traumatic event, many times it takes months or even years for symptoms to appear.

Only military veterans experience PTSD. 



Although Posttraumatic Stress Disorder does indeed affect our war vets; the fact is, PTSD can develop in anyone, including children.

Research tells us that 70% of all Americans within their lifetime will experience some type of major traumatic event. Out of that group, about 20% will develop symptoms of PTSD.

Experiencing PTSD is a symptom of mental weakness; people should just “get over” traumatic events of life

This is a common PTSD myth that can be difficult to combat. While the majority of people who go through a traumatic ordeal do go on to readjust to normal life after a period of time, not everyone can, and it has nothing to do with mental weakness.

Many other factors go into determining whether or not someone goes on to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, including but not limited to:

  • the type of trauma experienced
  • the severity and longevity of the trauma
  • personality traits
  • how the brain releases chemicals to combat stress
  • whether or not the individual experienced childhood trauma
  • whether or not an individual has a strong social support system

Treatments

Though PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated and managed in several ways.

  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive processing therapy or group therapy
  • Medications
  • Self-management strategies, such as self-soothing and mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring her back to reality after a flashback
  • Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD


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Medical Disclaimer: Brain Health Bootcamp aims to promote education and awareness of mental health conditions among adolescents, families, and educators. We publish material that is researched, cited, and drawn from sources reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.