PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault as an adult or in childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal, given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.
People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way, such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when they are trying to do something else. The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind them of the trauma, isolating themselves from other people, or feeling numb. The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or startling easily.
PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems with memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health problems. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.
PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medicines such as antidepressants. Early treatment is important and may help reduce long-term symptoms. Unfortunately, many people do not know that they have PTSD or do not seek treatment.