Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an oftentimes debilitating mental disorder that occurs sometimes when a person has directly experienced or witnessed an extremely traumatic, tragic, or terrifying event. People with PTSD usually have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to.

Posttraumatic stress disorder, 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 the event could be something witnessed, such as the destruction after a plane crash.

Most people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) repeatedly re-live the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections — called flashbacks — during the day. The nightmares or recollections may come and go, and a person may be free of them for weeks at a time, and then experience them daily for no particular reason.

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 murder, as opposed to a flood.

PTSD can be successfully treated, usually with a combination of psychotherapy and medications (for specific symptom relief, e.g., the common accompanying depressive feelings). People with PTSD should seek out treatment with a mental health professional — such as a psychologist or therapist — who has specific experience and background in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

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