Many people experience trauma. Some life events can have unwanted, lasting effects. Natural disasters. Terrorism. Physical altercations. Robbery. Car Accidents. Physical abuse. Exposure to combat. Sexual abuse and Sexual assault. Any situation in which our sense of safety, security and possibly our life is experienced as being seriously threatened can have physical, emotional, and cognitive consequences. Symptoms typically appear within the first three months following such an event, but for some people it may be months or years after the trauma before these symptoms may appear.
Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event is likely to experience a variety of emotional responses including, anxiety or increased fearfulness, sadness or depression, problems with concentration, guilt, shame, irritability or unusual anger outbursts. Additionally, they may notice changes in their behavior patterns such as increased use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes; withdrawal or avoidance of certain people or situations, or missing more days of work. Many people will experience some of these symptoms but gradually they will improve. For others, the symptoms may last for a longer period of time.
Research suggests that about 60% of men and 50% of women in America experience at least one traumatic event. Of those who have experienced a traumatic event, approximately 8% of men and 20% of women will develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a combination of symptoms that have affected a person’s relationships or work life for three months or more with little or no sign of improvement. By definition, PTSD occurs as three clusters of symptoms; a sense of re-experiencing the event, avoidance of people, places or things that remind one of the event, and feeling keyed up or restless.
Some people re-experience the event through repeated nightmares or memories of the event, acting or feeling as if the event is happening all over again (even re-living the physical sensations of the event in one’s body), or increased stress and distress when faced with people, places or things that remind one of the event.
Avoidance can be simply choosing or trying not to think about the event or anything associated with the event including feelings. Some find it difficult to recall specific details of the event. Following a traumatic event some people begin to feel distant and not emotionally connected to loved ones and people with whom they used to feel connected.
Difficulty falling or staying asleep is common as is feeling like one must be “on guard” when around others or in certain situations. Sometimes increased irritability or jumpiness can continue.
Good news! Extensive research finds that cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy/counseling combined with the use of medications prescribed by a physician are effective treatments for PTSD. They can be used together. Psychotherapy/ counseling approaches can typically be completed in 8 to 15 sessions. Individual goals in therapy will be different for everyone, but those who seek help have a better chance of recovery than those who do nothing.
If you find that you or a loved one is experiencing some of these symptoms after a traumatic event has occurred, even if it occurred years ago, please seek help from a mental health professional experienced in treating trauma for an assessment and therapy.