It is common after a traumatic event to experience anxiety and difficulty coping with what happened. However, with time many people start to feel better and adjust. In the case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) though, the distress may last for months and even years.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may develop following a terrifying, catastrophic or otherwise devastating event or series of events in which the person experiences extreme vulnerability, trauma or abuse.
A sample of some of the types of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include witnessing or experiencing:
- Rape/sexual assault/incest
- Physical/emotional abuse
- War/combat/terrorist attack
- Natural disaster
- Sudden loss of a child, parent or other loved one
It’s difficult to predict who will develop PTSD and who won’t. However, some factors put people at more risk than others including mental health status prior to the event and the lack of effective support systems following the event.
Risk factor overview:
- Pre-existing mental health issues
- Lack of support systems following the event
- Previous traumatic experiences
- Compounded extreme stress following the event such as loss of a job or home
The risk of developing PTSD may be reduced by seeking help immediately after a traumatic event.
Symptoms in Teens and Adults
Symptoms vary but the most common are:
Reliving the Event
- Recurring persistent memories of the event
- Reliving the event over and over again (Flashbacks)
- Extreme anxiety including physical and emotional distress when reminded of the event
Avoidance and Numbing
- Avoiding situations or people that are reminders of the event
- Loss of memory about aspects of the event
- Feelings of fear, depression, hopelessness and/or isolation
Anxiety and Emotional Arousal
- Problems sleeping and/or disturbing nightmares
- Irritability, aggressive and/or self-destructive behavior
Symptoms in Children
It’s important to realize that symptoms in children may manifest in ways that are different than adults.
Symptoms may include:
- Regression of previously acquired skills such as toilet training
- Separation anxiety from parent
- Acting out the experience through play acting, drawing or stories
- New unexplained fears