Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that follows
a terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent
frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel
emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close
to. PTSD, once referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue, was
first brought to public attention by war veterans, but it can
result from any number of traumatic incidents. These include
kidnapping, serious accidents such as car or train wrecks,
natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, violent attacks
such as a mugging, rape, or torture, or being held captive. The
event that triggers it may be something that threatened the
person's life or the life of someone close to him or her. Or it
could be something witnessed, such as mass destruction after a
Whatever the source
of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma
in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the
day. They may also experience sleep problems, depression, feeling
detached or numb, or being easily startled. They may lose interest
in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate.
They may feel irritable, more aggressive than before, or even
violent. Seeing things that remind them of the incident may be very
distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or
situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the
event are often very difficult.
PTSD can occur at
any age, including childhood. The disorder can be accompanied by
depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. Symptoms may be mild or
severe--people may become easily irritated or have violent
outbursts. In severe cases they may have trouble working or
socializing. In general, the symptoms seem to be worse if the event
that triggered them was initiated by a person--such as a rape, as
opposed to a flood.
Ordinary events can
serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or intrusive
images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and
reenact the event for a period of seconds or hours or, very rarely,
days. A person having a flashback, which can come in the form of
images, sounds, smells, or feelings, usually believes that the
traumatic event is happening all over again.
traumatized person gets full-blown PTSD, or experiences PTSD at all.
PTSD is diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. In
those who do have PTSD, symptoms usually begin within 3 months of
the trauma, and the course of the illness varies. Some people
recover within 6 months, others have symptoms that last much longer.
In some cases, the condition may be chronic. Occasionally, the
illness doesn't show up until years after the traumatic event.
anxiety-reducing medications can ease the symptoms of depression and
sleep problems, and psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral
therapy, is an integral part of treatment. Being exposed to a
reminder of the trauma as part of therapy--such as returning to the
scene of a rape--sometimes helps. And, support from family and
friends can help speed recovery.
Many people have a
single anxiety disorder and nothing else, but it isn't unusual for
an anxiety disorder to be accompanied by another illness, such as
depression, an eating disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, or another
anxiety disorder. Often people who have panic disorder or social
phobia, for example, also experience the intense sadness and
hopelessness associated with depression or become dependent on
alcohol. In such cases, these problems will need to be treated as