Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that follows a
terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and
memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once
close to. PTSD, once referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue, was first brought to
public attention by war veterans, but it can result from any number of traumatic
incidents. These include kidnapping, serious accidents such as car or train wrecks,
natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, violent attacks such as a mugging, rape,
or torture, or being held captive. The event that triggers it may be something that
threatened the person's life or the life of someone close to him or her. Or it could be
something witnessed, such as mass destruction after a plane crash.
Whatever the source
of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of
nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day. They may also experience sleep
problems, depression, feeling detached or numb, or being easily startled. They may lose
interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate. They may feel
irritable, more aggressive than before, or even violent. Seeing things that remind them of
the incident may be very distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or
situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the event are often very
PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood. The disorder can be accompanied by
depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. Symptoms may be mild or severe--people may become
easily irritated or have violent outbursts. In severe cases they may have trouble working
or socializing. In general, the symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them
was initiated by a person--such as a rape, as opposed to a flood.
Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or
intrusive images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and reenact the
event for a period of seconds or hours or, very rarely, days. A person having a flashback,
which can come in the form of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, usually believes that
the traumatic event is happening all over again.
Not every traumatized person gets full-blown PTSD, or experiences PTSD at all. PTSD is
diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. In those who do have PTSD, symptoms
usually begin within 3 months of the trauma, and the course of the illness varies. Some
people recover within 6 months, others have symptoms that last much longer. In some cases,
the condition may be chronic. Occasionally, the illness doesn't show up until years after
the traumatic event.
Antidepressants and anxiety-reducing medications can ease the symptoms of depression
and sleep problems, and psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an
integral part of treatment. Being exposed to a reminder of the trauma as part of
therapy--such as returning to the scene of a rape--sometimes helps. And, support from
family and friends can help speed recovery.
Many people have a single anxiety disorder and nothing else, but it isn't unusual
for an anxiety disorder to be accompanied by another illness, such as depression, an
eating disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Often people who
have panic disorder or social phobia, for example, also experience the intense sadness and
hopelessness associated with depression or become dependent on alcohol. In such cases,
these problems will need to be treated as well.
text taken from ANXIETY DISORDERS: DECADE OF THE BRAIN (NIMH).