The human mind can be both fragile and tenacious, depending on whom it belongs to. A seriously traumatic event may have different responses from individuals who have been exposed to it. A person’s mind may be provoked towards high levels of stress while another individual may find ways to mitigate the experience.
Fighting a war, being a victim of rape or sexual abuse, witnessing a terrible crime, and being homeless after a flood are examples of traumatic events that can unhinge many people, mentally. Post-traumatic stress disorder is usually the result of shock to one’s nervous system.
What Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Is
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe form of anxiety disorder caused by traumatic, frightening, or distressing events. More often than not, purposeful violent acts cause more shock than do natural or accidental incidents although these account for many PTSD cases as well.
PTSD can manifest itself right after a traumatic event or take months, even years, to make itself known. The response from each person varies and it is unclear why some individuals develop the disorder while others cope well enough to live normally after the stressful experience.
When the mind is assaulted with shock, it may numb itself as a coping mechanism then open itself to emotional and physical reactions later. These reactions may include insomnia, nightmares, feeling upset, and others. These are natural responses to trauma which normally takes the mind a short time to resolve. In some people, however, their responses to trauma may continue for over a month or may show some time way later after the traumatic incident. In this case, PTSD becomes a developing issue for which psychiatric intervention may be imperative.
PTSD disrupts lives and can cause a person to have marital problems, poor career and personal relations, and social isolation. If not treated urgently, the disorder may deteriorate to include other issues such as depression, acute fear, memory disruptions, substance abuse, and self harm.
Signs of PTSD
It is important to recognize PTSD so that the root cause, not just the manifestations, may be addressed. A person is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder when he is experiencing these three types of symptoms:
- Reliving the Trauma
Trauma can leave behind a vivid footprint to plague the PTSD sufferer. When a similar or unrelated event, object, or person, triggers intense memories, these often occur as flashbacks. Flashbacks can seem so real that the afflicted may believe the event most feared is happening again. A war veteran may react to an exploding firecracker as a gunshot or grenade explosion. He may experience intense fear, go into survival mode, or relive whatever emotions he had during a shoot-out.
Some of these intense memories may not even need a trigger. These may come unbidden at any time, forcing the person to relive the trauma and experience the following:
- flashbacks or vivid images that jolt the person into thinking that his worst fears are happening again
- intense distress at anything reminding the person of the trauma
- physical symptoms such as sweating, pain, nausea, and tremors
- feeling on edge
- being easily angry, upset, or startled
- lack of concentration or focus
- insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns
- Avoidance and Numbing
When someone experiences something bad, it is but natural to avoid things that remind him of it. A PTSD victim however would avoid everything that smacks as a reminder of the traumatic experience, part of which would be his memories. Avoidance would constitute these behavioural symptoms:
- keeping extremely busy
- Avoidance of persons, places, things, events, and even sights, sounds, taste, and smells that remind the person of the traumatic incident. People with PTSD may avoid watching a particular TV show or go anywhere near where the trauma took place.
- using drugs or alcohol to numb the impact of memories or forget them
Numbing is another coping strategy of the mind that allows the person to cut off his feelings. This emotional disconnection renders the person unable to be in touch with his feelings and to express what he feels. Sometimes the person literally forgets or refuses to talk about the major parts of the traumatic event. A numb person experiences:
- difficulty in empathising with others
- difficulty showing or expressing affection
- emotional desensitisation
- social isolation
- Arousal Symptoms
People suffering from PTSD have very heightened emotions and alertness. Their emotions are aroused so that these individuals always seem to be on their guard. Their chronic vigilance causes them to experience:
- constant tension
- sudden bursts of anger, annoyance, and irritability
- sleeping problems
- difficulty keeping focus or concentration
- being easily startled
- panic when faced with reminders of the trauma, whether related to or not
People with PTSD often have difficulty functioning normally. The syndrome is especially prevalent in war veterans who have more social, familial, and unemployment problems than many in the PTSD group. Vietnam vets with post-traumatic stress for instance seem to struggle with keeping interpersonal relationships intact, holding down jobs, and reducing their propensity for violence.
PTSD can cause other mental health problems to crop up such as depression and other anxiety disorders. It may cause physical or medical problems as well although research is still ongoing on this matter.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a treatable syndrome. If you know anyone or are yourself undergoing acute stress from trauma, get professional help as soon as possible to help you come to terms with your trauma. You cannot change your past but know that you can be in control of your present.