People who experience or witness horrible events such as school shootings, combat, rape, torture, natural disasters, accidents or other things in which their physical safety and life — or the safety and life of others — was in danger have experienced a traumatic stress. People who are repeatedly exposed to life or death situations, such as EMT and rescue squad workers, police officers, fire fighters and medical personnel on burn wards or trauma units where stress levels and mortality rates are high also witness trauma.
Anyone who has experienced these things has experienced a shock and, even if all ultimately escape danger, the people who lived through the event may feel like life “just isn’t the same anymore.” People may experience a variety of reactions, many of which are understandable in the context of experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as the hurricanes.
Experiencing physical or emotional symptoms in response to a traumatic event is normal and is called a traumatic stress reaction.
Physical Symptoms of Traumatic Stress
Anyone affected by the hurricanes or other traumatic stress may experience:
Feeling like you are numb or not part of the world
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is similar to a stress reaction and, in fact, many people who have experienced a traumatic event do develop PTSD. Those with PTSD may experience many of the same emotional and physical symptoms as those with a traumatic stress reaction. Those with PTSD, however, experience trauma along with intense fear, helplessness or horror and then develop intrusive symptoms (such as flashbacks or nightmares). Their symptoms will last more than a month and get in the way of normal life.
Traumatic stress is not uncommon. In fact:
About 70 % of U.S. adults have experienced a severe traumatic event at least once in their life and one out of five go on to develop symptoms of PTSD
Approximately 8% of all adults have suffered from PTSD at any one time
If you include children and teens, an estimated 5% of all Americans will develop PTSD during their lifetime or more than 13 million people
About one in 10 women will develop PTSD symptoms during their lifetime or double the rate for men because they are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence, rape or abuse.
Almost 17% of men and 13% of women have experienced more than three traumatic events during their life.