Understanding PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental disorder that affects more people than we realise.

PTSD is a trauma or stressor-related disorder. People suffering from PTSD experience a certain set of symptoms brought on by a traumatic event or series of traumatic events.

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD this way:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.

Populations commonly exposed to traumatic events have a higher average of PTSD than the average citizen.

Over the next few weeks, we will expand on this topic, taking a closer look at the  main causes and symptoms of PTSD, and the treatments available for those suffering from PTSD.

Many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with combat soldiers. But there are many sufferers of PTSD that were never in the military. Any traumatic event can result in PTSD.

The ability to deal with trauma and stress varies greatly from person to person. While some people can handle nearly any event without long-term effects, others are considerably more fragile.

PTSD is much more common than most people realise!

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD is not limited to one demographic or a single type of trauma. It’s not limited to an age group, gender, or socioeconomic background.

While PTSD is most often associated with veterans, it is also common with:

●       Accidents such as a car crash

●       Violent attacks

●       Sexual assault or threatened sexual abuse

●       Being bullied or harassed

●       Kidnapping

●       Witnessing someone else being harmed or killed

●       Traumatic birth (either from the mother or the partner witnessing a traumatic birth)

●       Terrorist attack

●       Natural disaster

●       Living in a war zone

●       A history of trauma or abuse

While other people may develop mental disorders from trauma in their life, PTSD is reserved for a distinct type of trauma. For example, people who are going through a difficult life experience such as sickness, divorce, or loss of a job may experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

However, PTSD is defined for a certain group of people experiencing a specific set of symptoms.

The type of trauma used to diagnose PTSD as defined by the DSM-5 is:

A person exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows:

●       Directly experiencing the traumatic event

●       Witnessing a traumatic event in person

●       Indirect exposure to a traumatic event such as an event that happened to a close friend or loved one. The event must be violent in nature.

●       Experiencing repeated or indirect exposure to aversive details of a traumatic event. This usually happens in the course of normal job duty, such as a police officer repeatedly working on child abuse cases, or first responders cleaning up the aftermath of a car crash.

Note: This does not include non-professional exposure such as people watching the news or watching movies depicting traumatic events).

Some people may feel invalidated when they do not receive a PTSD diagnosis, thinking that they’re being told that their trauma isn’t serious enough to warrant the diagnosis.

While these feelings are understandable, it doesn’t mean that they are not feeling or experiencing symptoms brought on by mental health issues or by trauma. People with anxiety often have heart palpitations and avoidance is a common symptom of depression.

The difference between PTSD and other trauma-based or mental health diagnoses is not meant to downplay or delegitimize their experience, but rather to illuminate a specific mental health disorder with a very specific set of symptoms.

Risk Factors for PTSD

While PTSD can be experienced by any demographic, there are some factors that do increase the probability of it developing.

These risk factors include:

●       History of anxiety or depression

●       Lack of support

●       Early childhood trauma

●       History of abuse

●       History of drug or alcohol abuse

●       Women are more likely to suffer from PTSD than men

●       Family history of mental illness

●       Past traumatic experiences

●       Poor coping skills

●       Ongoing stress

●       Working in jobs that include potentially traumatic events such as first responders, hospital workers, or those who are in the military

PTSD is a common challenge, even among those that have never served in the military or with the police. Trauma can be found nearly anywhere in society. Watching a loved one die or experiencing a mugging can result in post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, know that help for your symptoms is available. Make an appointment with your physician or trained mental health professional to get some much-needed relief.

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