serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident.
Despite the fact he showed rapid recovery from
his physical injuries, he was experiencing symptoms
of significant emotional distress. He was depressed,
anxious, losing weight, and having sleep difficulties.
He had been experiencing nightmares, intrusive
recollections of the accident, and had feelings
of impending doom. His personality and behavioral
changes were noticeable to friends and family.
John had difficulty adjusting back to work and
was more distant in his relationships. John
was puzzled feeling guilty he was not grateful
for his recovery and felt responsible for his
inability to be more responsive to his family
and work. It was only after months of battling
his feelings that he sought psychological treatment.
His symptoms were clear to the therapist: They
were characteristic of post-traumatic stress
Post-traumatic stress disorder
is an anxiety disorder that's triggered by one's
memories of a traumatic event witnessed. The
disorder commonly affects survivors of traumatic
events, such as sexual assault, physical assault,
war, torture, a natural disaster, an automobile
accident, an airplane crash, a hostage situation
or a death camp. PTSD can also affect rescue
workers at the site of a tragic accident or
Not everyone involved in a
traumatic event experiences post-traumatic stress.
The Mayo Clinic statistics indicate the disorder
affects more than 5 million adults each year
in the United States. Post-traumatic stress
disorder is twice as common in women as it is
Signs and symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder typically appear within three
months of the traumatic event. However, in some
instances, they may not occur until years after
the event and may include:
- Flashbacks and distressing
dreams associated with the traumatic event.+
- Distress at anniversaries
of the trauma.
- Efforts to avoid thoughts,
feelings and activities associated with the
- Feelings of detachment or
estrangement from others and an inability
to have loving feelings.
- Markedly diminished interest
or participation in activities that once were
an important source of satisfaction
- Hopelessness about the future
- no hope of a family life, career or living
to old age.
- Physical and psychological
hypersensitivity - not present before the
trauma - with at least two of the following
reactions: trouble sleeping, anger, difficulty
concentrating, exaggerated startle response
to noise, and physiological reaction to situations
that remind you of the traumatic event.
Your doctor or a mental health
professional may suggest a combination of medications
and behavior therapy to treat post-traumatic
stress disorder. The objectives of treatment
are to reduce your emotional distress and the
associated disturbances to your sleep and daily
functioning, and to help you better cope with
the event that triggered the disorder. Treatment
may involve a combined approach including medications
and behavior therapy designed to help you gain
control of your anxiety.
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These
antidepressants act on the chemical serotonin,
the neurotransmitter in your brain that helps
brain cells (neurons) send and receive messages.
These medications can help control anxiety as
well as depression.
therapy. This treatment teaches you
effective ways of managing thoughts or situations
that remind you of the trauma you've experienced.
The goal of this therapy is to promote a sense
of recovery and a feeling of mastery over your
Stress management training.
This approach also involves learning to manage
your anxiety through relaxation. You work with
the help of a therapist to develop skills to
decrease your preoccupation with negative thoughts
and the sense of being overwhelmed by the traumatic
You identify distorted thoughts and
beliefs that arouse psychological stress and
learn ways you can view and cope with a traumatic
event differently. There is special emphasis
on learning to develop a sense of mastery and
control of your thoughts and feelings.
Effective treatment is often
successful in helping patients in their adjustment
back to life and work.