Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Returning to normal life after a dangerous or shocking event is a complicated process. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result when fear becomes overwhelming and the fight or flight reflex is easily triggered. The brain naturally wants to protect the body from harm. Many who experience traumatic events will be able to recover on their own, generally after a six-month period. Over time, the stress associated with the event will not be easily triggered. However, some may not. Those who do not will be diagnosed with PTSD.


Symptoms can occur as soon as three months after the event. Some sufferers may not feel the effects until years afterward. To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last longer than a month and interfere with normal functioning, such as at work or in relationships. Sufferers must have at least one re-experiencing and avoidant symptom, two arousal and reactivity symptoms, and two cognition and mood symptoms. Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. Avoidance symptoms include isolating to avoid memory triggers, related thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event. Arousal and reactivity symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping and having unprovoked outbursts quite frequently. Cognition and mood symptoms include not being able to perfectly recall the traumatic event, feelings of doom about oneself and the world, unnecessary feelings of guilt or blame, and loss of interest in once enjoyable activities. PTSD may be followed by depression, addiction issues and anxiety disorders.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Medication and psychotherapy work well separately or together to treat PTSD. Antidepressants may help alleviate the fear and numbness associated with this condition. Psychotherapy involves talking to a mental health professional in a group or one-on-one session. Talking through these complicated feelings can last from six to 12 weeks. Some patients need more time to learn how to cope with and manage PTSD symptoms. Therapists can explore exposure therapy to face and control their fear, and cognitive restructuring to understand and overcome traumatic memories.