Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) refers to the delayed reaction, sometimes for longer than 6 months, to a highly stressful or life threatening event. Often the causes for PTSD are myriad and distasteful, and more than 40 million women in America suffer from it. Although childhood abuse and sexual abuse is a common cause of PTSD, other events which cause psychological trauma can also trigger the disorder. These include life threatening accidents, wars or natural disasters.
PTSD usually occurs following a stressful or traumatic event that is highly severe, and often survivors and witnesses of such events will only start showing symptoms of PTSD after a few months. The reasons for this would be due to the event being perceived as dangerous and outside of the individual’s control, leading to feelings of helplessness and extreme anxiety.
Due to the severity of the event or disaster, the inability of the person to avoid or cope with the trauma is such that it results in PTSD. Due to the immense negative impact, the person will avoid any situation or trigger that might remind them of the event. Whilst it has been attributed to internal conflict, recent research has shown that these psychological conditions are actually due to past traumatic events. Further, it is likely that the extreme stress experienced during the event has resulted in physical damage to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with the emotions of fear and stress.
For a person who is suffering from PTSD, any spur of event occurring can trigger manifestations and he will suffer from the traumatic event both physiologically and psychologically. There will be repeated flashbacks of the event, and being subjected to this experience will cause a behavioral change eventually. These take the form of amnesia, listlessness and a need to isolate themselves.
For children suffering from PTSD, they are likely to experience nightmares, memory fragmentation, hypertension, flashbacks, amnesia, panic attacks and some may turn to substance abuse to avoid memories of the event. Most victims will suffer from a range of effects, such as physiological, psychological, social and self destructive behaviors.
Physiological outcomes take the form of a change in the brain activity, structure and functioning, also known as neurobiological effects. There may also by psychophysiological effects, such as hyper arousal, increased propensity to be startles and increased neurohormonal changes which leads to greater stress and depression. It is often easy to overlook physiological outcomes as they take the form of physical issues such as headaches or lightheadedness and are treated accordingly.
Psychological outcomes include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and dissociation, where the individual seeks to hide from the present by submerging into their selves. Other social indicators include low self esteem, substance abuse and an inability to form interpersonal relationships. At its extreme, the individual may turn to self destructive behavior and attempt suicide, or take part in self injury and risky behaviors that can lead to death.
If the individual is diagnosed with PTSD, there is treatment and help available in the form of stress medications and therapy. These aim to correct the physical, physiological and psychological effects experienced and aim to integrate the person back into their current lives.