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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Shannon Pierce

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is also known as “PTSD,” a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.  It can also develop after experiencing physical harm or being threatened of physical harm.  Although some people have symptoms of PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a tragic or traumatic event for a short time afterwards, PTSD is diagnosed when those symptoms stick around for months or even years afterwards. When symptoms worsen, or when people feel frightened when they are no longer endangered, a person may have PTSD because their natural “fight or flight” reaction has been altered or damaged.


Symptoms may begin appearing after three months of the trauma, or not until years later.  The symptoms are especially problematic when they begin to interfere with ones daily life.

The symptoms are often categorized by avoidance, intrusive memories, negative thoughts, or changes in emotion. Flashbacks and nightmares include anxiety-ridden symptoms like heart-pounding or sweating.  Symptoms can be triggered by certain events, smells, sounds, and sights. 


PTSD can be also be triggered by serious harm and even sexual abuse.  Although there are many forms of negative life experiences that can case PTSD, doctors predict it is caused by a variety of factors that cause mental illness.  For instance, inheriting a heightened risk of anxiety or depression, having a low tolerance for stress, or the hormones and chemicals in your brain can all contribute.


When seeing a doctor, a physical exam may be performed in order to rule out the chance for other medical issues.  A psychological evaluation is also performed. The doctor will ask you to describe your issues, symptoms, and struggles in order to see if they meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This criteria is used for various mental health diagnoses. To be clinically diagnosed, the patient must have experienced these symptoms for at least one month:

-At least one “re-experiencing symptom”

-At least three avoidance symptoms

-At least two hyper-arousal symptoms


Treatments and drugs

As with many mental conditions, psychotherapy and medication are often combined to treat PTSD.  Cognitive or “talk” therapy is often combined with exposure therapy, helping you to face your fears slowly but steadily. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is defined by exposure therapy and guided eye movements to help patients react to traumatic memories in a healthy way.

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