• What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
• When is the reaction to trauma normal, and when is it a disorder?
• Who gets PTSD? Can anyone have the disorder?
• How can I cope with PTSD?
• Are there treatments available for PTSD?
• Are there medicines that can treat PTSD?
• What can I do to help myself?
- What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe emotional reaction to a traumatic event. This reaction is characterized by four major symptom categories:
- Re-experiencing — a feeling that the trauma is happening again and again, accompanied by frequent nightmares and troubling memories related to the trauma.
- Avoidance — a strong impulse to avoid anyone and anything that has to do with the traumatic experience.
- Negative Cognitions and Moods – Persistent negative beliefs about oneself and the world, and feeling alienated from those around you.
- Arousal — constant feelings of alertness, nervousness and difficulty concentrating. This situation typically causes sleep disorders and difficulty falling asleep.
PTSD symptoms create difficulty in everyday functioning, and seriously interfere with the routine of the trauma survivor and those around him. However, these symptoms are entirely normal in the period immediately following the traumatic event, and usually diminish gradually during the weeks and months after the event. A person is defined as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder if he fulfills several of the symptom categories (as defined by the DSM-Diagnostic Statistical Manual) a month after the trauma and if the symptoms, rather than diminishing, grow stronger with time. For a complete list of PTSD symptoms click here.
- When is the reaction to trauma normal, and when is it a disorder?
In the weeks and months after a traumatic event most people experience feelings of fear, oppressive memories, unpleasant physical sensations, difficulty sleeping, irritability and more. This situation is normal, and in most cases disappears without professional help. The main criteria when deciding whether to seek help are the level of disruption to everyday life and the amount of distress a trauma survivor experiences. If the situation continues for more than a month and if symptoms intensify, we recommend seeking professional help.
- Who gets PTSD? Can anyone have the disorder?
Research shows that the main factors that determine if a person will suffer from post-traumatic disorder, are: the kind of trauma experienced, its acuteness, length of exposure time, and the former personal history of the trauma survivor.
These findings suggest that in fact anyone can develop PTSD, if he/she is exposed to acute trauma. Nevertheless, there are several specific factors that affect the development of PTSD including a person’s mental preparedness for the specific trauma, the amount of control he experienced during the traumatic event, previous emotional problems and the amount of environmental support he/she receives after and during the trauma.
- How can I cope with PTSD?
The symptoms that survivors experience immediately after the traumatic event generally diminish in the weeks following the event. One of the important factors in helping trauma survivors during this time is the support of friends and family. There are several things that trauma survivors can to do to help themselves as well. These include getting enough sleep, maintaining a daily routine, exercising and sharing thoughts and feelings with loved ones. In addition practicing relaxation exercises can be very helpful during the recovery phase. In the case that a month has passed since the traumatic event and a person’s symptoms have not diminished, treatment by professional therapists who have been specially trained is in order, as at this point symptoms do not tend to “disappear” or “get better” on their own.
- Are there treatments available for PTSD?
Several different treatments available for PTSD have been proven effective. These treatments can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from post-traumatic symptoms. The therapy, generally provided by a licensed psychologist or social worker, includes stabilizing the survivor, processing the traumatic experience and focusing on return to normal functioning. Because of the gravity of the disorder and the effectiveness of the treatment, it is important not to delay treatment, and, when the need arises, to seek professional help as soon as possible.
- Are there medicines that can treat PTSD?
There are several medicines that are effective in the treatment of specific symptoms of the PTSD, such as difficulty or lack of sleep, panic or anxiety. However, there is no one medicine that effectively deals with the whole range of the disorder’s symptoms. For this reason, medication can ease the recovery process, but cannot replace psychological treatment.
- What can I do to help myself?
To put your life back on course and prevent the situation from getting worse, here are a few steps that you can take in the hours and days after the trauma, which may make things easier:
- Share your feelings with people you care about — talking with friends and family members will help you relieve some of the emotional load that is weighing on you.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle — especially in such troubling times, it is very easy to neglect our health. Our health influences our mental state, which is why it is important in times like these to eat healthy food, engage in physical exercise and add fun activities to our day. In addition, relaxation exercises can be helpful.
- Find sources of support and comfort — many people draw comfort and encouragement from religious frameworks, others from community organizations. In some communities there are support groups for people who have been through similar traumas. These various frameworks allow us to begin to understand and find significance in our experiences and strengthen us.