Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common reaction to an extremely stressful or traumatic event. Many different kinds of events can lead to someone developing PTSD, including a car accident, rape, being the victim of a crime, physical or sexual abuse, or seeing someone else die.
Three main symptoms characterise PTSD: (1) Sufferers report frequently reliving the trauma. This means that they either experience intrusive memories or thoughts (i.e., memories and thoughts that pop into their minds against their will), or have frequent nightmares about the traumatic event. A subgroup of patients with PTSD report flashbacks, which are moments when they feel as if they are going through the trauma once again. (2) Because it is very upsetting to think about the trauma, clients often try not to think about it and to push thoughts about it out of their mind. In addition, they may avoid people, places or situations that might trigger thoughts or memories about the event. (3) Finally, sufferers often experience signs of physical stress, which may include sleeping problems, feelings of anger or irritability, trouble concentrating or being constantly ‘on guard’. Without treatment, PTSD may persist for many years after the trauma has happened.
How may post-traumatic stress disorder affect your life?
Many individuals with PTSD suffer from major depression, or anxiety problems, or abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms. Other common problems are strong feelings of guilt and shame, excessive anger, destructive behaviour, relationship- and sexual difficulties, and physical complaints such as headaches or breathing problems. These problems often lead to a serious impairment of the person’s academic, occupational and social functioning.