Treatment for PTSD

PTSD and anxiety are the body’s attempt to protect itself and function under extreme and dangerous conditions. It is a functional reaction to a dysfunctional situation. The human body is designed this way; it is not a weakness or a flaw, even though it can cause discomfort.

Most of us build our lives around the belief that we are relatively safe. Granted, normal daily life involves many stressors, especially in these hectic times, but we expect these pressures to happen and we become accustomed to handling them. The more flexible we are and the more we know ourselves and are in touch with our abilities, the easier it is to deal with normal everyday stress.

However, the reality is any of us could be subjected to a catastrophic stress. When that happens the feeling of safety vanishes. Terror and a complete inability to handle situations replaces our normal abilities. These catastrophic events can include rape, physical or sexual abuse, physical attack, mugging, car-jacking, natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, floods, etc.), fires, car accidents, plane crashes, hostage situations, school shootings, military combat, or the sudden death of a loved one. It not only effects the victims of these events, but also witnesses, families of victims, and helping professionals who can develop severe stress symptoms which can last for months or even years after the event.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the term used to characterize people who have endured highly stressful and frightening experiences and who are undergoing distress caused by memories of that event. It is as if the person just cannot let go of the experience. The event comes back to haunt them. The anxiety experienced during or immediately after a catastrophic event is called traumatic stress. When the symptoms last several months after the event, it is called post-traumatic stress. PTSD can last for years after the original trauma and may not become evident initially. For example, an individual may witness a murder as a child, but not experience the associated stress until mid-life.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety and Depression
It is sometimes difficult to differentiate anxiety and depression from PTSD. Those who have suffered a traumatic event may suffer from depression or anxiety and not realize their symptoms fit the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. It is important to consider that PTSD and anxiety are the body’s attempt to protect itself and function under extreme and dangerous conditions. It is a functional reaction to a dysfunctional situation. The human body is designed this way; it is not a weakness or a flaw, even though it can cause discomfort.

Gender and Personality Gender and personality also plays a role on who is susceptible to PTSD. Women are two to three times more susceptible to PTSD than men. A few studies seem to support the theory that women are more prone to PTSD, including one compelling study involving people who were exposed to the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Forty-five percent of the women vs. twenty-three percent of the men had PTSD as a result of the bombing.

If the person is naturally anxious, the reaction will be earlier and more severe.
An affected person gets repeated recollection of the stressful event as Flashbacks or dreams. The person re-experiences the original trauma and gets affected both physiologically and psychologically and tries to avoid such stimuli. Repeated Re-experiences cause a behavioral change in the person. The changes could be

  • Psychological numbing
  • Amnesia of certain aspects of the stressful event
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Isolation
  • Reduced interest in activities
  • Sleeplessness
  • Agitation

Short Term Effects of PTSD
These effects are seen when the person re-experiences the past trauma as Flash backs or dreams. The short term effects of stress in PTSD are mostly physical effects.

  • Head aches
  • Stomach upset
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Giddiness

Long Term Effects
These effects are seen for a longer period of time no matter whether the affected person re- experiences his past trauma or not. The long term effects of PTSD are:

  • Memory disturbances
  • Alteration in the response to fear
  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety disorders like phobias
  • Poor self esteem
  • Substance abuse
  • Anti social behavior

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH):

  1. Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD.
  2. PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood, but research shows that the median age of onset is 23 years.
  3. Women are more than twice as likely to be afflicted as men.
  4. Rape is the most likely PTSD trigger; 65% of men and 45.9% women who are raped will develop the disorder.
  5. Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.
  6. About 19 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD at some point after the war. The disorder also frequently occurs after violent personal assaults such as rape, mugging, or domestic violence; terrorism; natural or human-caused disasters; and accidents.

A study conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that preschool-age children commonly exhibit symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after exposure to a life-threatening hurricane. Based upon reports from mothers, 16.5% of exposed children met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD one year after a hurricane and 11.6% continued to exhibit PTSD symptomatology eighteen months after. The presence of PTSD places young children at increased risk for failure to achieve normal development in cognitive, social, and emotional skills.