Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological syndrome that affects individuals who have experienced a critical incident in their lives. The cluster of symptoms including nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal, dissociation, depression, and avoidance was first noticed in war veterans returning from combat. At that time it was labeled "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." In the last several decades research in the area of psychological trauma has discovered that other types of life-and-death situations can produce a similar effect: earthquakes, rape, domestic violence, airplane crashes, car accidents, and violent crime.
For many individuals, the symptoms gradually disappear over time, but for others the symptoms can persist with varying intensity for decades. Generally, the symptoms of PTSD fall into three categories:
- Intrusive symptoms: These symptoms occur when the traumatic event unexpectedly "intrudes" into the personï¿½s consciousness whether through vivid memories, disturbing thoughts, or nightmares. Others are "triggered" by internal or external cues that resemble part of the trauma. When this happens, the trauma is, in a sense, re-experienced over and over again.
- Avoidance Symptoms: Because re-experiencing the traumatic event is usually so painful, many individuals develop avoidance patterns to dampen the intensity of the bad feelings. For example, an individual with PTSD may avoid situations that are reminders of the traumatic event. Others may become numb to emotions altogether. Depression is a common result of the withdrawal and "shutting down" that occurs.
- Hyperarousal Symptoms: Individuals with PTSD often feel like they need to constantly be on guard for danger; thus, they often experience exaggerated startle responses, irritability, or explosive anger. They may have difficulty concentrating or remembering new information. Many people have problems falling or staying asleep.
There are several associated symptoms that may be present when someone develops PTSD. These include: alcohol or other drug abuse (to "self-medicate" painful feelings), panic attacks, suicidality, extreme guilt, or loneliness.
If these symptoms last for more than one month and are disruptive to your life, you may consider counseling.