post-traumatic stress disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder also known as PTSD is the mental disorder that can occur with, or under the threat of death, sexual violence and severe injury. PTSD can also be experienced by people who have witnessed a distressing event. These traumatic events could be natural disaster, a grave accident, an act of terrorism, war/fighting or violation.

Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and sentiments long after the trauma has ended. They can look back, remember the event, feel sorrow, fear or anger and they usually isolate themselves from others. PTSD individuals can prevent or remind people of trauma and can react severely to a loud noise or accident.

A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder requires exposure to an upsetting traumatic event. However, the exposure could be indirect rather than first hand. For example, PTSD could occur in an individual learning about the violent death of a close family or friend. It can also occur as a result of repeated exposure to horrible details of trauma such as police officers exposed to details of child abuse cases.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder fall into four categories. Specific symptoms can vary in severity.

  1. Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
  2. Avoidance: Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that may trigger distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
  3. Alterations in cognition and mood: Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts and feelings leading to ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event leading to wrongly blaming self or other; ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; feeling detached or estranged from others; or being unable to experience positive emotions (a void of happiness or satisfaction).
  4. Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being overly watchful of one’s surroundings in a suspecting way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.

Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms similar to those described above in the days following the event. For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms must last for more than a month and must cause significant distress or problems on the individual’s daily functioning. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms may appear later and often persist for months and sometimes years. post-traumatic stress disorder often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.

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