Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction that may occur after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event (or witnessed something life-threatening happen to someone else) can develop PTSD. Some examples are military combat, sexual assault, automobile accidents, and natural disasters. It is possible to develop PTSD without having experienced a dangerous event, but an event that is emotionally provocative nonetheless, for example the unexpected death of a loved one.
Most people will experience a host of reactionary symptoms after suffering from a trauma, yet many will recover naturally, within a few weeks. PTSD occurs when symptoms do not resolve on their own and interfere with the person’s ability to work and otherwise engage in their life. Those who suffer from PTSD may have difficulty sleeping, suffer from nightmares and/or flashbacks (feel as if they are reliving the event), and experience a loss of interest in activities and relationships once enjoyed. They may feel anxious and jumpy and may be easily upset when reminded of the traumatic event. They are likely to avoid thoughts, places or things that remind them of the trauma. They may feel emotionally numb and perhaps feel bad about themselves, and they may react to others with increased anger and irritability. Those suffering from PTSD may pull away from their loved ones, turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope, and may become depressed.
Children who suffer from PTSD may present differently than adults. Children may suddenly have trouble sleeping, may be unusually clingy and upset when parents aren’t close by, may have sudden trouble going to the bathroom even though they are potty trained, may become more irritable or aggressive, and may complain of physical discomfort (for example, stomach aches or headaches).
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. One is more likely to develop PTSD if they were physically injured at the time of the traumatic event, if they have a history of childhood trauma, if they felt extreme fear when the trauma occurred, if their social support is limited, and if they suffer from other mental health issues. On the other hand, seeking support from friends, loved ones and professionals, and utilizing other positive coping strategies can protect one from developing PTSD. PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. If you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD, counseling can help.