Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post­ Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or even witnessing a terrifying event or events. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable and even obsessive thoughts about the events. While most people experience or witness traumatic events will experience difficulty adjusting and coping initially they will generally with time recover. People experiencing PTSD, however, will generally have symptoms that increase in severity and can last for months and even years. The following important information is important for parents to consider.

Causes and Risk Factors of PTSD

While it is not possible to predict who will develop PTSD in response to a traumatic event or events, there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s vulnerability. Many of the risk factors revolve around the nature of the traumatic event or events. Traumatic events are more likely to cause PTSD when they involve a severe threat to the victims life or personal safety. The more extreme and prolonged the threat, the greater the risk of developing PTSD as a result. Intentional, human-inflicted or caused harm such as rape, abuse, assault and torture also tend to cause PTSD. The extent to which a traumatic event was unexpected, uncontrollable and inescapable also plays a role in predicting the development of PTSD. Other risk factors for PTSD may include:

  • Previous traumatic experiences, especially early in life
  • Family history of PTSD or depression
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • History of substance abuse
  • History of depression, anxiety or other mental illness
  • High level of stress in everyday life
  • Lack of support after the trauma
  • Lack of coping skills

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can arise suddenly, or gradually or come and go over long periods of time. At times symptoms may appear unexpectedly with no apparent triggering event or memory. At other times symptoms may be triggered by something that reminds the victim of the traumatic event such as a noise, an image, certain words or smells. While everyone suffering from PTSD experiences it differently, there are three main types of symptoms:

  • Re­experiencing the traumatic event
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Increased anxiety, depression and/or emotional arousal

Re-­Experiencing the Traumatic Event

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is recurring)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or other frightening events)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g., pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating, etc.)

Avoidance and Numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings that remind of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of limited future (believe that the victim will not live a normal life span, get married, have a career, etc.)

Increased Anxiety, Depression and/or Emotional Arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyper­vigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

There are other signs and symptoms of PTSD that are common and generally manifest themselves in addition to the above referenced signs and symptoms. These additional signs and symptoms include:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame or self­-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Physical aches and pains

Symptoms of PTSD in Children and Adolescents

There are unique signs and symptoms that may manifest differently than in adults. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Fear of being separated from parent(s)
  • Losing previously­acquired skills (such as potty training)
  • Sleep problems and nightmares
  • Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma might be repeated
  • New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma
  • Aches and pains with no apparent cause
  • Irritability and aggression

Treatments for PTSD

There are several treatment modalities for PTSD. Often, the various treatment modalities will be used in combination to assist the victim of PTSD. Some the treatment therapies are, as follows:

  • Trauma-­focused cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medications
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (“EMDR”)