Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that typically develops after the experience of a traumatic event. PTSD is severely disruptive. People who live with PTSD may have nightmares, flashbacks, or fear that they are in danger even when no threat is present. These feelings are often brought on by triggers; things that bring back memories of the traumatic event. Triggers can be either internal (thoughts, feelings, memories) or external (situations, objects, words). People with PTSD may also experience guilt or anger about the event, which might lead to maladaptive coping behaviors such as excessive alcohol or drug use. While PTSD has been more recently associated with veterans of war, it can happen with any sort of traumatic event.
PTSD is an extremely prevalent disorder. About 70% of adults in the U.S. experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives, and 20% of them develop PTSD as a result. Overall, about 24 million adults in the U.S. are affected by PTSD. Not everyone who experiences PTSD symptoms after a traumatic event will develop lasting PTSD. Symptoms lasting between for less than a month are a sign of acute stress disorder, a disorder similar to PTSD that occurs and ends relatively quickly. However, people who experience acute stress disorder are more likely to develop PTSD at a later time.
What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
There are three categories of symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorder: the re-experience of symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of PTSD as:
- Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
- Experiencing any sort of traumatic event, including childhood trauma
- Environmental stress after the traumatic event
- Having another mental illness or disorder
- Lack of social support
Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy” is a common method used on PTSD patients and can be carried out in groups or “one-on-one”. This type of treatment for PTSD patients typically lasts 6-12 weeks and can focus on either PTSD symptoms directly or other factors, such as social, job, or family related issues. Talk therapy is often tailored to the individual’s needs and can contain more than one type of therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral therapy is type of treatment focused on examining relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT includes several components, which include exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, and stress inoculation training.
- Stress inoculation aims to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching the patient how to reduce anxiety.
- Exposure therapy helps patients face their fears and take control, exposing the patient to the trauma they’ve experienced with the use of mental imagery, writings, or visiting the place where the traumatic event occurred. These tools are used to help the patient cope with their feelings in a safe manner.
- Cognitive restructuring is used to identify and correct negative thinking patterns that occur in anxiety provoking situations. It helps patients make sense of bad memories, and helps people look at the event in a realistic manner.
There are currently two medications approved for PTSD treatment. Both are also used to treat depression, and help control symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, and anger and are often used in conjunction with psychotherapy, as it makes the process easier for the patient. These medications include:
Treatment for Mass Trauma PTSD Patients
There are instances where major disasters, such as natural disaster and acts of terrorism may affect large populations and develop PTSD symptoms. Most people develop these symptoms in the first few weeks after the mass trauma event. Some steps that are suggested to be taken in these instances include:
- Getting somewhere safe
- Finding a doctor if the individual has been injured
- Getting food and water
- Contacting loved ones
Currently, healthcare systems and hospitals suffer greatly because they are unable to meet the needs of those affected by mass trauma. Factors include lack of personnel or supplies, as well as the systems themselves struggling to recover from the event, as they are affected as well. While this poses as a problem, developments are currently being made to give therapy treatments via phone and internet, which has proven to be successful.