What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ?
While returning war veterans are the most commonly diagnosed victims of post traumatic stress disorder, anyone who is exposed to a traumatic and stressful event can display symptoms in the weeks following the event.
Statistics show 8% of men and 20% of women end up developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a crisis event and about 30% of these people develop chronic forms that stay with them throughout their lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not an all consuming anxiety disorder, but rather one dotted with periods of increased symptoms followed by a remission, so to speak, or decrease in the symptoms.
While it’s different for everyone, some older war veterans report a life filled with mild symptoms followed by an increase in symptom severity after they retire or face severe medical illnesses. Reminders of their military service such as reunions or anniversary dates made public by the media also increase their symptoms.
Numbers of Victims And Causes PTSD is considered quite common among Americans. It is estimated almost 8% of all Americans will have some form of PTSD in their lives, with women twice as likely as men to face it. The most common traumatic events associated with PTSD in men are combat, rape, neglect as a child and childhood physical abuse.
Women often flashback to sexual molestation and rape, physical attacks, events where they are threatened with a weapon and childhood physical abuse. Perhaps the most telling statistic is among men and women who have war zone combat experience.
There, almost 30% of the men and women suffer from PTSD. Statistics also show that more than half of the men who served in Vietnam and almost half of the female veterans from Vietnam experienced serious PTSD symptoms.
Those Most Susceptible To PTSD
The greater the tragedy, the more unpredictable or uncontrollable it was, the more likely the victim is to develop PTSD. When the tragedy was sexual in nature, the victim felt responsibility towards the tragedy (real or imagined) and it involved betrayal, the victim is also more likely to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the future.
Additionally, the early the onset of the tragedy, the more likely a person is to suffer from this disorder.
The type of social support system and environment one comes home to after the tragedy also have a large impact on whether or not one will suffer from PTSD. If a home life is filled with shame, guilt or self-hatred, PTSD is more likely to develop.
Physical Consequences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
One of the first things doctors have noticed in those with PTSD is the hypersensitive nervous system of the victim. This causes an increased startle reflex and sleep disorders.
Those with PTSD also tend to have abnormal amounts of important hormones involved with the body’s stress responses. The thyroid function tends to be enhanced and the cortisol levels are lower than normal.
Moreover, the epinephrine and norepinephrine levels are higher. Physical symptoms of these problems include prevalent headaches, intestinal complaints, problems with one’s immune system, dizziness and chest pains.
The key to treating post traumatic stress disorder is a combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy. Unfortunately, there is no magical pill that will take away the problem and no definitive treatment set forth by the text books, but some treatments appear to work better than others. Group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy all appear to produce positive results.
Exposure therapy is a therapy that whereby the patient re-lives his trauma over and over again under supervised conditions to help him work through the situation.
Medications have been shown to help with the symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as a sleep aid. PTSD medications used most frequently include Zoloft and Prozac, however, cognitive behavioral therapy is currently producing better results than drug therapies in some patients. Diagnosis and treatment of PTSD is a very specialised process and differs from person to person.
How Family and Friends Can Help
While professional care is recommended for those who have PTSD, family and friends often want to help in the recovery process. Experts advice loved ones to allow the victim to speak about their experiences without being judgmental or necessarily trying to console them. Discourage them from developing patterns of avoidance, staying away from situations which remind them of the traumatic event.
If they are not seeking counseling, encourage them to contact PTSD organizations and to gain support from other survivors.
For people in the UK http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
For people in the USA http://www.adaa.org