July 17, 2007
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Reason for Concern, Reason for Hope
Dr. David Prescott – Acadia Hospital
Sadly, the past decade has provided psychologists and other mental health professionals with a number of opportunities to learn more about the causes and treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, acts of violence or terrorism such as the September 11th attacks, and the return of soldiers from the Iraq war, all include significant numbers of people with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, while these events put increased numbers of people at risk for PTSD, there is growing evidence that treatment can reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD? While many people feel temporarily depressed or anxious after a very upsetting or traumatic event, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder involves a number of characteristic behaviors and experiences. First, the trauma must be outside the realm of normal stressful events. Example would include being exposed to a situation with a true threat of death or serious injury, or a serious violation of a person’s space and body. Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also include:
Persistance of symptoms more than one month after a traumatic event.
Avoiding situations which reminds a person of the trauma
Reexperiencing the Trauma through dreams, flashbacks, or intrusive memories
Symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse
Heightened arousal, or being on guard all the time
Does Everyone Exposed to a Traumatic Event Develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? About 10% of women and 5% of men will experience PTSD during their lifetime. People exposed to highly dangerous situations, such as combat troops, have incidences as high as 30%. However, there are some factors which appear to decrease the risk of people developing PTSD. Some of these factors are beyond anyone’s control. Factors which decrease the risk of developing PTSD include:
Traumatic events which do not include exposure to violence are less likely to cause PTSD
Using active ways to cope after the traumatic event reduces the risk of PTSD
Having supportive family or friends, especially immediately after the traumatic event, reduces the risk of PTSD.
The longer a person is exposed to the traumatic event, the greater the risk of developing PTSD.
What Treatments Are Available for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Many, although not all, people who receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experience some improvement. Statistically, about half the people with PTSD no longer qualify for the diagnosis after one year. Other strategies that help include:
Focused counseling on managing anxiety and changing thinking patterns which increase or perpetuate fear often help. This type of therapy is often termed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Medications are often used to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety that go along with PTSD.
Group Therapy and Support Groups: Particularly after a traumatic event, being with other people who went through the same thing helps reduce the risk of long term problems.