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  • Fact Sheet: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that may occur when an individual is exposed to a life-disrupting traumatic event. It could be a natural disaster such as a tornado or an earthquake. It could be caused by people, such as rape or a workplace or school shooting. Even the threat of harm, or witnessing serious harm or violent death come to someone else, has the potential to create serious psychological distress. Cases involving long-term physical, mental or sexual abuse, being held hostage or being tortured can cause a great deal of sustained traumatic stress for an individual.

    If an appropriate outlet for the stress is lacking, and the individual doesn’t have a healthy outlet or strong coping skills to deal with strong negative emotional reactions, stress may build up. As a result, tension, anxiety and stress can build up and manifest as physical symptoms that are psychosomatic in nature such as headaches, gastric problems, dizziness, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat and tightness in the chest. Some people experience panic attacks, where the strong negative thoughts and emotions accompany the physical symptoms. Some people have a sense of impending doom and may feel that they are going to die.

    If emotional distress pursuant to exposure to a traumatic event persists more than four weeks, the individual may be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes the symptoms emerge even months or years after the event, and may disrupt the person’s life and interfere with interpersonal relations.

    Treatment for PTSD may involve counseling from a mental health professional and medication can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances in many instances. Self-help literature and support group participation may prove useful for many individuals.

    Symptoms of PTSD include:

    • Recurrent and distressing recollections of the event
    • Recurring nightmares of the event
    • A sense of reliving the experience
    • Avoidance of activities, places and people that trigger recollections
    • Blocking and avoidance of thoughts, feelings and conversations that recall the event
    • General loss of interest
    • Feelings of detachment and alienation from others
    • Emotional numbing
    • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Irritability and angry outbursts
    • Problems with concentration
    • Hypervigilance

    Additional information about PTSD may be found on our Web-based Resources page.