Contrary to the stereotype, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t just affect combat veterans. PTSD affects approximately 3.5% of American adults every year. It does not discriminate against any ethnicity, nationality, culture or age group. According to the National Center for PTSD, about six out of every 100 people will experience PTSD in their lives.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that develops in people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Most people eventually recover from initial PTSD symptoms. Those who are continually triggered by their trauma, to the point they experience recurring intense and disturbing thoughts, may become the one in 11 people who are diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetimes.
PTSD and associated trauma and stress disorders
Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of six universally recognized trauma and stress-related disorders. The others include:
- Acute stress disorder
- Adjustment disorders
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
- Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
- Second-hand trauma
Acute stress disorder is a shorter-term version of PTSD. Individuals with acute stress disorder experience intense, unpleasant reactions to a traumatic event immediately after it happens. Their dissociative symptoms can last anywhere from three days to a month. If these symptoms persist longer than a month, they are experiencing PTSD.
Adjustment disorders is a shorter-term version of PTSD. Individuals with acute stress disorder experience intense, unpleasant reactions to a traumatic event immediately after it happens. Their dissociative symptoms can last anywhere from three days to a month. If these symptoms persist longer than a month, they are experiencing PTSD.
Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) typically only affects children. It is characterized by a specific dangerous social symptom observed in children suffering from the disorder, which is a tendency to engage in meaningful conversations with random strangers and develop a bond with them, while struggling to develop a bond with loved ones.
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is similar to DSED, in that children with the condition are unable to form genuine, healthy bonds with their loved ones and caretakers. This can sometimes be attributed to neglect or abuse at an early age. Children in foster care, who constantly move from one home or family to the next, are also susceptible to RAD.
Second-hand trauma or secondary traumatic stress occurs when an individual is directly exposed to someone else’s trauma. It can affect anyone but is commonly recognized in those who work with or tend to trauma victims, like police officers, first responders, therapists, nurses and other health care professionals.
Signs and symptoms
Disorders related to stress and trauma are typically characterized by the following signs and symptoms:
- Avoidance symptoms: These include efforts to avoid internal reminders of a traumatic event – such as memories, thoughts, and feelings – as well as external reminders, like certain people, places, and situations.
- Hyperarousal symptoms: These include being jumpy or easily startled, irritable, and prone to angry outbursts and self-destructive behavior.
- Intrusion symptoms: These are recurrent, involuntary, and distressing memories, thoughts, and dreams of the traumatic event. An individual suffering from intrusion symptoms may also experience flashbacks. This is considered a dissociative experience that can feel like the event is happening all over again.
- Negative alterations: Forgetting details of a traumatic event is a commonly recognized negative alteration stemming from trauma. They are also characterized by feelings of depression, fear, guilt, isolation, and shame.
Coping with trauma can be difficult, but avenues for support and treatment exist. Talking with a mental health professional can help someone with PTSD and other trauma- and stress-related disorders learn to cope.
Those who experience overwhelmingly negative feelings and need immediate help should call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or call 1-800-273-8255.
William Beecroft, M.D., D.L.F.A.P.A., is medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips and information, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.
Read these blogs for more information on signs, symptoms and treatment of PTSD, as well as how to cope:
- PTSD Treatment: Where We Are Now, and How We Got Here
- Healing from Post-COVID PTSD: ‘I Needed Someone to Talk To’
- Playing Tetris May Help Prevent Trauma Flashbacks
Photo credit: Getty Images