What Is Post-Traumatic Stress?
For some people, frightening memories of a terrible event can resurface months or even years after the ordeal. In reliving the event, people become fearful and unable to cope with daily life. Mental health experts call this post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder.
“One of the biggest myths about post-traumatic stress is that it occurs most often in war veterans,” says Esther Giller, M.A., president of the Sidran Institute, an organization that helps people who have experienced traumatic life events. “In fact, women are most at risk, especially those who have experienced interpersonal violence, such as rape, or domestic abuse as children or adults.”
Others who are more likely to develop PTSD include:
Children who are neglected or abused
Survivors of terrible accidents, fires or natural disasters
Emergency response workers, such as police, firefighters and medical professionals
Victims or veterans of war
People with PTSD feel anxious and hyper-alert, “like their life is out of control,” says Giller. “They know something is wrong, but they often don’t connect what they’re feeling now to a traumatic event in their past." In an attempt to feel safe, they withdraw emotionally from others.
Other signs of PTSD include:
Frequent nightmares, flashbacks or other vivid memories of the event
Being unable to recall parts of the event
Avoiding any reminders of the event, including people, places, thoughts or activities
Feeling constantly on guard or edgy
The most effective treatment for PTSD is a combination of professional counseling and medication. Because people with this condition tend to isolate themselves, “family members play a vital role in encouraging victims to get the help they need. With treatment, people can feel better very quickly,” says Giller. Talking with a family doctor or mental health professional is a good place to start.
For more information, visit the National Center for PTSD website, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.