Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects roughly 7.7 million adults in the United States. The disorder is a reaction to having witnessed or involved in a traumatic event such as death, the threat of death, serious injury or forms of sexual violation. The symptoms can appear immediately or manifest years after the event.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Flashbacks—flashbacks happen when a stimulus triggers a person to relive an event or part of an event as if it is genuinely happening again.
- Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
- Avoidance of triggers, which can be people or things that remind them of the event.
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Excessive tension
- Intrusive memories
- A sense of isolation and the belief that no one can understand what they have been through.
- PTSD does not always come with the most well-known symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares. Changes in mood and behavior can often seem unrelated to the traumatic event. Mood change and other seemingly unrelated symptoms can complicate diagnosis. Often, the person suffering from PTSD is unaware that their symptoms are related to a traumatic event.
The five subtypes of PTSD:
- Natural disaster-related trauma. These are events over which people have no control. During the event, it is normal for people to fear for their lives and the lives of those around them. People may also witness traumatic things such as the death or injury of others. Survivors of natural disasters can develop PTSD.
- Survivor trauma is generally sparked by being victimized by crime, such as surviving a mass shooting. This subtype of PTSD can also be caused by surviving an accident that left others seriously injured or dead. An example of this PTSD subtype could manifest in those who survive an automobile accident in which there were fatalities.
- Victim-related trauma stems from being a witness or victim of a criminal attack. Robberies, carjackings, rape, and terrorist attacks can all lead to this type of PTSD.
- Perpetrator guilt differs from the other types of PTSD in that most forms of PTSD involve a person who was helpless in the face of a traumatic event. Perpetrator guilt PTSD affects those who had something to do with causing the traumatic event. They may have been involved in the planning or execution of a crime or committed abuse against another person.
- PTSD not otherwise specified (NOS) is a broad category of those who suffer the symptoms of PTSD, but do not fit neatly into one of the above categories. This time of PTSD is seen among those who are involved in the aftermath of traumatic events such as fire and rescue personnel who can see the devastation of crime, car wrecks, and natural disasters. It can affect those who clean up crime scenes, counsel victims of violent crimes, or listen to a loved one discuss a traumatic event. These people did not experience a traumatic event but are traumatized by the aftermath.
PTSD can also vary depending on whether it resulted from a single traumatic event, such as a person involved in a traumatic car wreck or the victim of a single crime. Others suffer multiple incidents of the same type of trauma. PTSD can be seen in military personnel and also those who suffered prolonged abuse as a child. Others develop PTSD after being exposed to multiple different types of trauma. An example of numerous different traumatic events would be surviving a housefire, then becoming a victim of a crime months later.
Seeking help from a qualified provider is the first step on a journey to healing from PTSD. Several therapies can be used to treat PTSD. Providers regularly utilize more than one form of treatment.
Your provider may suggest any one or combination of the following:
- Group therapy with others who share similar experiences can benefit those suffering from PTSD. Group therapy also helps address learning coping mechanisms and diminishing feelings of isolation.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy works to address the negative thinking cycles that are common to those who have PTSD.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a therapy specifically designed to treat trauma. It uses a carefully measured exposure to traumatic memories with alterntiving stimuli such as eye movements.
- Exposure Therapy is a form of psychotherapy done by skilled practitioners to help people safely face what they find traumatizing. Guided expose helps them to learn healthy coping mechanisms.