Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can arise following the experiencing of a traumatic event. This event must have involved actual or threatened death or serious injury. In addition, the person experiencing this event must respond with intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Examples of events that commonly produce PTSD include combat, violent assault, kidnapping, torture, natural or man-made disasters, and serious car accidents.
The condition of PTSD is characterized by “re-experiencing” the event in one or more ways including; intrusive distressing recollections of the event, nightmares, flashbacks, and distress upon exposure to things that remind them of the event (which could lead to avoidance of these cues). PTSD also produces symptoms such as the loss of interest in significant aspects of their lives, feelings of detachment from others, a restriction in the range of emotions, and an inability to recall certain aspects of the event. Individuals with PTSD may also have difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating, guilt feelings, and can be easily startled. The above mentioned symptoms have to persist for more than one month following the trauma.
The prevalence of PTSD varies depending on the geographic area from which the research data has been collected (i.e., certain areas have a higher rate of possible triggering events occurring in them). Some studies have found rates to be as high as 7.6% of the U.S. population. PTSD appears to affect men and women equally, and can develop at any age. Research has shown that approximately 50% of people with PTSD will spontaneously, completely recover (i.e., without treatment) within 3 months following the event. However, if the PTSD lingers it tends to be a chronic condition with a fluctuating course unless treated properly.
Certain anti-depressants have been found to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of PTSD, and effects appear to be maintained over time. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is also helpful for PTSD. This teaching model trains individuals in skills found to be helpful in managing PTSD, and may include anxiety monitoring, respiratory control (i.e., slow, controlled breathing), progressive deep muscle relaxation, cognitive restructuring (i.e., identify and correct errors in thought), and in vivo and imaginal exposure (i.e., exposure to feared situations). In general, success rates of approximately 70% have been consistently found using CBT strategies. For many PTSD sufferers the most effective and efficient form of treatment may be a combination of medication and CBT.