PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. PTSD can occur at any age and some evidence shows that susceptibility to the disorder may run in families.
Symptoms generally begin within three months of the traumatic event but can occur years afterward. PTSD symptoms last more than a month.
- Re-experiencing symptoms – flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts triggered by words, objects, places or situations that are reminders of the traumatic event
- Avoidance symptoms – staying away from reminders of the event, feeling emotionally numb, feeling depression or extreme worry, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, trouble remembering the event
- Hyperarousal symptoms – constant feeling of being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, having angry outbursts
- Symptoms in children include bedwetting, forgetting how to talk, acting out the traumatic event during playtime, being unusually clingy with a parent, development of destructive behaviors
Main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy, medications or both.
- Psychotherapy – Treatment for PTSD generally lasts 6 to 12 weeks. Support from family members and friends is often an important part of therapy. Physicians and therapists may combine types of therapies to meet the individual’s needs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is frequently used to treat symptoms of PTSD through the use and combination of exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and stress inoculation training.
Talk therapies help people overcome PTSD by teaching people about trauma and its effects, anger control techniques, helping people to identify feelings of guilt and shame.
- Medications – Sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are both medications that have been approved by the FDA for treatment of PTSD. Medications may be prescribed to control symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger and feeling numb inside. It is recommended to talk to your doctor about possible side effects of antidepressants or other medications.
How to Ask for Help
It can often be difficult to ask for help following a traumatic event. However, ignoring or denying symptoms can cause PTSD to become more severe. There are many options for seeking help.
- Talk with a family member or friend about what you are experiencing
- Find a support group after a traumatic event
- National hotlines, emergency rooms and walk in clinics are available if you feel you are in danger or fear that your symptoms are becoming worse
- Discuss with your doctor about the symptoms you have been experiencing