Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, Causes And Treatment


The world has come a long way in improving the quality of human life by diagnosing and treating complex diseases that once no one knew even existed! Even though the purview of health includes physical as well as mental well-being, the latter, unfortunately, has been largely ignored. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is one such mental disorder that affects a large number of people and needs to be talked about more than it is.

According to WHO's statistics, a staggering 300 million people around the world suffer from depressive disorders and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition that people develop as a result of having experienced traumatic events.

These include, but are not limited to, accidents, natural disasters, losses of any kind, sexual assaults, war, etc. While there are a lot of people who recover from the trauma after a short period of PTSD symptoms, some other people continue to not be able to cope with it for months or even longer.

They may develop irrational fears and feel threatened under normal conditions. This is when you must see a doctor and seek professional help. If you or your loved ones suffer from this condition, read on to find out more about how you can seek help.

Not everyone who goes through a trauma develops the disorder. And conversely, not everyone who suffers from the disorder necessarily has had a traumatic past. There are certain signs and 4 categories of symptoms that will help you find out if it is PTSD or not. These symptoms may develop and manifest sooner (a month) or later (one year or more), may last for a few months to many years, and each one may or may not be present in the exact same combination in different cases.
However, to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person should manifest at least one symptom from each category for more than a month.

1. Re-experiencing symptoms
2. Avoidance symptoms
3. Reactivity or arousal symptoms
4. Cognitive symptoms

1. Re-experiencing Symptoms

As the name suggests, a person keeps reliving the traumatic moments through flashbacks, nightmares, scary thoughts, etc. which hinder their routine activities. The trigger could be both internal - their own thoughts - or external - objects in their immediate surroundings that bring back memories of the past.

2. Avoidance Symptoms

The person tries their level best to isolate themselves from events, things, places or even feelings and thoughts that remind them of the trauma. These symptoms also significantly interfere with the routine activities of their lives and can be very difficult to cope with.

3. Reactivity Or Arousal Symptoms

In this condition, the person expresses fatigue, uncontrollable tension or anxiety, is unable to sleep properly, has an abnormally high frequency of mood swings and outbursts or is always worried about a dangerous event happening (hyper-arousal). As a result of this, they might take to substance abuse and unhealthy activities in order to cope with the symptoms.

4. Cognitive Symptoms

These include trouble in remembering or concentrating, loss of interest in the activities they once enjoyed, self-blame or guilt, feeling unhappy and empty, being sceptical about other people's intentions, and thinking negatively in general about almost everything. These symptoms can quickly worsen and make the person withdraw or alienate oneself from family, friends, etc.

The most common outcomes of developing these symptoms are depression, anxiety, hopelessness, drug addiction and other physical symptoms like pain, derailed personal and professional life and relationships, etc.

Before interacting with anyone suffering from PTSD, it is important to realise that it is not a sign of weakness, that anyone can develop the disorder at any point of their lives, that it is not always under one's control and that there is always hope.
While there are a lot of factors that make a person more prone to PTSD - called risk factors (first-hand or second-hand experience of traumatic events, traumatic childhood experiences, lack of social support after the experience, chronic stresses and losses, history of mental illnesses), there are other factors which can help curb or ease it - called resilience factors (proper social support, positive self-image, ability to effectively respond to danger/fear, etc.)

Children, especially teens, may have a different way of manifesting PTSD. Kids may often wet the bed despite being toilet-trained. They may also develop speech-impairments, being very shy and clingy to the parents, etc. They may try to bring out the trauma through drawing or other activities. Teens are prone to depression, withdrawal, substance abuse or worse, even run away.

Enough can't be emphasised on reaching out to a doctor and treating PTSD on time. Going through the symptoms alone helps us to understand how dangerous this disease can be. Talking to a qualified therapist, i.e., psychotherapy is the first step towards treating PTSD.

Treatment has been proven very effective when it comes to this disorder. Under psychotherapy, there are various methods like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (altering the way one responds to situations, feeling and thoughts to, thereby, curb harmful behaviours that develop as a result of PTSD), Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy and Reprocessing (decreasing the effect of traumatic events by recalling them while focussing on an external stimulus like a moving object), Exposure Therapy (reducing anxiety, fear, withdrawal, etc. by confronting the things that trigger these feelings), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (helping the person cope and be more open with experiences in life and inner-self, rather than avoiding them). There are also medications available for the disease, but as some medicines have an addictive nature, one should only ingest medicines in a controlled manner, prescribed by their psychotherapist.

If you or your loved ones suffer from PTSD, please remember that it is not your fault, and it is never too late to reach out to someone - family, friends, or doctors. There is always hope and there are effective treatments.

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