Most people experience an extremely distressing or traumatic event at some point in their lives.
In most cases, people eventually "put it behind them" and are able to move on. However, sometimes the person cannot move beyond the trauma and remains mentally and emotionally "stuck." Such an individual may suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Some traumas that can lead to PTSD include:
- Rape and sexual assault
- Child abuse
- Fire or disaster
- Sudden loss of a loved one
- Witnessing violent or frightening events
Some of the symptoms of PTSD involve re-experiencing the trauma in one’s thoughts and feelings. For example, a person who was raped might spend a lot of time thinking about the rape. She may have bad dreams or nightmares about it. She might become very upset whenever she is reminded about it.
Other symptoms of PTSD involve "shutting down" behaviorally or emotionally. For example, a combat veteran might avoid TV shows and movies about war, because to watch them would be too painful. He might be unwilling to talk to others about the war or even to think about it. He may lose interest in his usual activities and become isolated from his family and friends. At times, he may feel emotionally numb, as if he has no feelings at all.
Finally, some symptoms of PTSD involve signs of general arousal, anxiety, or agitation. For example, someone whose home was destroyed in a hurricane might have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. She might feel irritable and may have difficulty controlling her temper. She may feel "wary" all the time, always on the lookout for signs of danger. When someone moves suddenly or makes a noise, she might get startled or jump.
It should be noted that many of the symptoms of PTSD are considered normal for people who have recently been through a traumatic event. Therefore, PTSD is not diagnosed until the symptoms have persisted for over a month and are interfering with the person’s life. Sometimes, a person can show severe and excessive symptoms of distress immediately after the trauma. This individual might have Acute Stress Disorder, which can sometimes develop into PTSD.