Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that may emerge following a frightening or traumatic experience.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a natural emotional response to frightening or dangerous experiences that involve actual or threatened serious harm to oneself or others. However, for some people, the thoughts or memories of these events seriously affect their lives, long after any real danger has passed. These types of experiences are called “traumatic.”
Signs & Symptoms
PTSD usually appears within three months of the event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear for years. Common symptoms include:
re-experiencing the traumatic event over and over
having recurring nightmares
experiencing unwanted, disturbing memories of the event
acting or feeling as if the event is happening again
feeling upset when reminded of the event
staying away from activities, places or people that are reminders of the traumatic experience
avoiding friends and family
losing interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
experiencing difficulty having loving feelings
being unable to feel pleasure
having a hard time concentrating
getting angry easily
having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
fearing harm from others
experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
having fears of dying.
Causes & Risk Factors
PTSD is a response to traumatic life events, such as car crashes, fires, bombings, rape, torture or seeing a family member, friend or other person harmed or killed. Being involved in a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, flood or earthquake, can also lead to PTSD.
Some people experience traumatic events and do not develop PTSD. Many factors play a part in whether a person will develop the disorder. Risk factors make a person more likely to get PTSD, whereas protective factors reduce the likelihood of developing the disorder.
Risk factors for PTSD include:
experiencing dangerous events and trauma in the past
having a history of mental health or substance use problems
feeling helplessness or extreme fear
having a small support system after the traumatic event
feeling guilt, shame or responsibility for the event or its outcome
experiencing additional stress after the event (e.g. loss of a loved one, pain and injury, loss of a job or home).
Protective factors that may reduce the risk of developing PTSD include:
having support from other people, such as friends and family
participating in a support group after a traumatic event
feeling confident about one’s own actions regarding the event
having a coping strategy or a way of getting through the traumatic event
being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.
Diagnosis & Treatment
People can recover from PTSD. Some recover in six months, while others take much longer. Everyone’s experience is different.
Trauma counselling or therapy can be done individually or in a group, and can be very helpful for people with PTSD. Family counselling and individual treatment can help with relationship troubles. Psychiatrists and family doctors can prescribe medication for depression, nervousness and sleep problems, which are common in people with PTSD. Medication works best when a person is also in counselling. Therapy should be adapted to best suit each client.
Having support following a traumatic event is very important for those with PTSD. Some examples of helpful supports include: