PTSD and the Effects of Trauma

When people have awful, scary, shocking experiences, there can be long-lasting effects on their physical and mental well-being. Sometimes, they develop a disorder known as “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” or PTSD – it’s a pattern of physical and psychological symptoms that happen in response to a traumatic event, and it can be extremely debilitating.

PTSD symptoms were first identified in veterans who returned home from war with what was once called “shell-shock” – they had flashbacks of the war, nightmares, problems relating to other people, and overall problems adjusting to civilian life. Mental health experts now understand that ANY sufficiently traumatic or horrifying experience can cause PTSD.

PTSD symptoms can start to show up almost immediately after a traumatic event, or they can take months or even years to develop. They often seriously interfere with a person’s ability to function normally, and they can even lead to acts of violence and/or suicide. If you have experienced a traumatic event, seek the support of a health care provider or a therapist. He or she can help you cope with the feelings that may linger long after the trauma happens.

What Causes Trauma?

Any event that is dangerous, life-threatening, violent, or perceived to be that way can be traumatizing. Some examples of things that cause trauma:

  • War, Ethnic Violence, Political and Civil Unrest
  • Family Violence – being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, or witnessing abuse and violence.
  • School or community violence.
  • Being the victim of a mugging, a beating, a rape or some other violent crime.
  • Natural disasters – hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc.
  • Serious accidents.
  • Many American citizens have immigrated from countries where there is ethnic or political violence. Like veterans of war, these people may be at higher risk for PTSD. People with violence or sexual abuse in their families are also at high risk for PTSD-related problems.

Symptoms of PTSD

People can have various combinations of symptoms, including:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks are more intense than memories – people may actually believe they are back in the original situation.
  • Nightmares. Dreams may not be about the event in any obvious way, but would contain images that are frightening or stressful.
  • Reliving the event by thinking about it all the time.
  • Avoiding any situation which reminds you of the traumatic event.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Anxiety attacks.
  • Constant worry and fear. Feeling “on guard.”
  • Depression.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Feeling “numb.”
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Revenge fantasies.
  • Physical problems – especially headaches and stomachaches.
  • Problems with concentration.
  • Problems relating to other people.
  • Problems at school or work.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.

Treatment

If you, or someone you know, is suffering with symptoms like those listed here, talk to a general health care provider or get in touch with a licensed therapist. Full-blown PTSD can be devastating, but with professional help, people can recover.

Many have benefited from group therapy (support groups led by a trained professional); others find a one-on-one relationship with a counselor to be more useful. There are also prescription medications that may be helpful, but they should always be used in conjunction with psychotherapy. A professional counselor who has experience with PTSD can help determine the best treatment for each individual situation.