PTSD: Some Questions Answered

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?


What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event such as military combat, rape or natural disasters. It was once referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. Those stricken with it frequently relive the traumatic experience, in one way or another. Sometimes the severe form of PTSD can interfere with a person’s daily activities.

What Can Trigger PTSD?

Natural disasters are often a trigger. These include earthquakes, floods, fires; hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Other triggers are military combat; serious plane, train or auto accidents; sexual, physical, or emotional abuse; violent personal crimes like rape, muggings or kidnappings and terrorist events such as those of Sept. 11.

How Common Is It?

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7.8 percent of all Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives with women (10.4 percent) twice as likely as men (5 percent) to exhibit symptoms. This represents only a small proportion of people who have undergone trauma.

Do You Need Help?
Do you think you or someone you know is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome? The Anxiety Disorders Association of American offers this online self test to help you answer that question.
For example, only about 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones, an historic trigger, experience PTSD. Those more likely to experience it are those who have undergone multiple traumatic events or who have some genetic disposition or a family/social background that predisposes them to PTSD.

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms vary from case to case. They usually begin within three months of a trauma, although there can be a delayed onset. In some cases, years can pass before symptoms appear, usually triggered by the anniversary of the trauma or another traumatic event.

These are among some of the most common symptoms:

  • Flashbacks, or feelings as if the trauma were happening again.
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Upsetting memories, or images or thoughts about the trauma.
  • Anxiety, fear or panic attacks, feeling as if the danger were still present
  • Trouble controlling emotions
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling agitated and on the lookout for danger
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Heart pounding or trouble breathing
  • Avoiding conversations and staying away from places, activities, or people that might remind you of trauma.
  • Trouble remembering important parts of what happened during the trauma.
  • "Shutting down" emotionally or feeling emotionally numb. Trouble having loving feelings or feeling any strong emotions.
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy doing.


Why Can’t PTSD Sufferers Get Over It And Get On With Their Lives?

One myth about PSDT is that the sufferers are somehow crazy or too weak to cope. Research suggests that there is a physiological cause, that prolonged trauma may disrupt and alter brain chemistry. For some people, a traumatic event changes their views about themselves and the world around them. This may lead to the development of PTSD.

What is happening with PTSD is part of a set of common symptoms and problems that are connected with being in a traumatic situation. Having symptoms after a traumatic event is not a sign of personal weakness. Many psychologically well-adjusted and physically healthy people develop PTSD. Given exposure to a trauma that is bad enough, probably all people would develop PTSD.

What Is The Treatment For PTSD?

According to t he the National Center for PTSD, the disorder is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy and drug therapy. There is no definitive treatment, and no cure, but some treatments appear to be quite promising and research into improved treatments is taking place constantly.

PTSD can be treated by a wide range of mental health professionals, including: psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and psychiatric nurses.

Effective psychotherapeutic or counseling methods, such as cognitive behavior therapy, usually involves learning skills to manage and cope with symptoms, working through the experience and making it mean something in the scope of a person’s life.

For some people, medication can significantly reduce symptoms, enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy and improve quality of life.

How Can Someone Get Help?

Because of the longtime link between battlefield service and PTSD, many veteran hospitals are well staffed to handle these problems. If you are a veteran, you can contact your local VA Hospital or Veterans Center or call the VA Health Benefits Service Center toll free at 1-877-222-VETS!

Others should begin with their primary care physician who may be able to recommend a mental health practitioner. You may also want to r ask friends if they know of any mental health providers whom they recommend. Other steps to find appropriate treatment include:


  • If you work for a large company o organization, call the Human Resources or Personnel office to find out if they provide mental health services or make referrals.
  • If you are a member of an Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), call to find out if mental health services are available.
  • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime's toll-free information and referral service at 1-800-FYI-CALL. This is a comprehensive database of more than 6,700 community services agencies throughout the country that directly support victims of crime.
  • Contact a local hospital directly and ask about mental health clinics, or staff psychiatrists.
  • Contact the psychiatry department of a local medical school, or the psychology department of a local university.
  • Contact a professional society or consumer-advocate association. These include the Sidran Foundation (410-825-8888) , Anxiety Disorders Association of America (212-543-5355); American Psychological Association (800-964-2000); NAMI (800-950-6264) and the National Institute of Mental Health (Toll-Free: 1-88-88-ANXIETY or 301-443-4513).



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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