What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder. The forthcoming new DSM has reclassified it as a trauma based condition. PTSD includes features of anxiety such as generalized anxiety and dread. However, experiencing major stress is significant in developing PTSD. PTSD has a clear cause which is a specific, extreme trauma such as rape, violence, natural or man-made disasters such as hurricanes or 9/11, combat war, death of a loved one, car or other accidents, and humanitarian crisis. This extreme trauma is a horrifying and exceptionally stressful experience or event which is usually perceived as life threatening and not within the normal boundaries of day to day living. It leads to severe and uncontrollable psychological symptoms. It is extremely important that the general public understand that PTSD is a NORMAL response to an extremely ABNORMAL situation. Neuroscience has shown that trauma causes specific changes in the brain that requires treatment. It does not mean an individual is insane, dangerous, immoral, has a character flaw, or any other unfounded stigma that is unfortunately associated with PTSD due to misinformation or ignorance.
The Development of PTSD
It is believed that a predisposition to PTSD influences its development. PTSD is diagnosed when the symptoms do not go away after one month or longer and begin to significantly disrupt the ability to live a normal life, especially disrupting intimate relationships. Clinical depression is usually experienced with PTSD. The traumatic experience causes an uncontrolled memory that is at the core of the clinical symptoms of the disorder. Clinical symptoms can include re-experiencing the traumatic event in night terrors, intrusive memories, avoidance, and emotional numbing. Other symptoms are increased arousal, sleeplessness, noise intolerance, anger, and extreme reaction to being startled or irritated. Other behaviors associated with PTSD include shutting down, losing interest in things that were once enjoyable, withdrawing from loved ones, inability to concentrate, and excessive inappropriate feelings of guilt.
There is evidence-based treatment that leads to the recovery and/or manageability of PTSD such as individual talk therapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), along with the temporary use of antidepressants, which can relieve the immediate symptoms and crisis in order to help the brain readjust to allow the talk therapy to be effective. Through therapy, focusing on the guilt and shame associated with the experience can help change the negative thinking patterns and erroneous belief system caused by the traumatic event and can help lead to emotional relief. Correcting faulty belief systems and negative thinking patterns that are at the core of the symptoms can be life altering for someone experiencing PTSD.
For more culturally appropriate resources, support and information please visit my XAS Consulting website at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and my You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services website at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: Author.
Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology (14th ed.). Boston MA: Allyn & Bacon