Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness or horror. It can result from a trauma an individual experienced personally, such as rape, war, natural disaster, abuse, serious accident and captivity. Individuals can also develop PTSD after witnessing or learning of a violent or tragic event.

Signs and Symptoms

A brief period of difficulty adjusting and coping to such trauma is common but if you have symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as you did before the traumatic event, you may have PTSD. Symptoms typically appear within three months of the traumatic experience but sometimes occur months or even years later. They are usually grouped into the following three categories:

Re-experiencing:
  • Recurrent and intense memories or flashbacks or upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Great psychological or physiological distress when certain things (such as objects or situations) remind them of the event
Avoidance or emotional numbing:
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about things that remind them of the traumatic event
  • Limited range of emotion
  • Decreased interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Anxiety and increased emotional arousal:
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Being easily startled or frightened 
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behaviour, such as substance abuse

Causes / Physiology

Research suggests post-traumatic stress disorder is likely caused by a complex mix of an individual's inherited predisposition to psychiatric illness (especially anxiety and depression) and life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma a person has been exposed to since early childhood. Other contributing factors include the inherited aspects of personality (temperament) and the way a person's brain regulates the chemicals and hormones the body releases in response to stress.

Treatments

PTSD treatment often includes both medications and psychotherapy, a combined approach that can help improve symptoms and teach skills to cope better with the traumatic event and its aftermath.

Related Links

National Alliance on Mental Health: www.nami.org
National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov
Veterans Affairs Canada: www.veterans.gc.ca