Updated: Mar 6, 2019
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is generally diagnosed after we experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However the symptoms may not surface until several months, or even years, later.
Who Suffers From PTSD?
Although PTSD is often associated with combat veterans or survivors of a traumatic event, children raised in severely dysfunctional families can also be affected by PTSD well into adulthood.
PTSD events produce such a high ‘state of threat’ that some experts believe can change the body chemistry. Many of us who were raised in a dysfunctional family often express PTSD in our hyper-vigilance of our environments or through our severe monitoring of comments or actions of others.
This is a result of being ‘on guard’ much of our childhood because we learned to constantly survey our environment whilst looking for situations that might lead us to feel shame or fear some type of criticism.
As adults, although it’s long after the threat had passed, we may still be on alert to ward off future events that might re-trigger the fear of the original fearful event.
In my case, it took me 20 years to stop flinching whenever someone raised their arm. This was because I was suffering PTSD from being raised in a violent family where I was hit on a regular basis.
What Are The Most Common Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms?
There are three main types of symptoms that characterize PTSD:
Re-experiencing the trauma through invasive distressing memories of the event, flashbacks, and bad dreams.
Emotional numbness and escaping places, people, and activities that remind us of the trauma.
Increased arousal such as high anxiety, insomnia and concentration, feeling jittery, and easily irritated and getting angry.
This criteria applies to anyone over 6 years old:
Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.
Directly experiencing, or witnessing in person, the traumatic events.
Understanding that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend.
In cases of actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to details of the traumatic events. For example: a police officer who is repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse.
We may suffer from PTSD if we experience one or more of the following:
Having memories of the traumatic event which are spontaneous, recurrent, involuntary, intrusive and distressing.
Having recurrent distressing dreams in which the subject or the way the dream affects us is related to the events.
Having flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which we feel or act as if the trauma is recurring.
Having intense or prolonged psychological distress when exposed to internal or external cues represent an aspect of the traumatic events
Having physiological responses to reminders of the traumatic event.
Having persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts or feelings closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders i.e. people, places, conversations, activities, objects or situations.
We may suffer on-going problems with two or more of the following:
Failure to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events when it’s not because of head injury, alcohol, or drugs.
Having developed persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself, others or the world: “I’m bad”, “I can’t trust anyone”, and “there’s danger everywhere”, “No one can be trusted,” "The world is completely dangerous".
Having persistent and/or distorted self-blame, and blaming others, about the cause or magnitude of the trauma.
Having dogged fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame.
Having markedly less interest, or participation, in previously significant activities
Feeling detached or estranged from others
Persistently unable to experience positive emotions
We also may have two or more of the following obvious changes in how we react:
Aggressive or irritable behavior
Self-destructive or reckless behavior
Overstressed startle response
Having difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep or experiencing restless sleep
Experiencing significant distress or not being able to function when it’s not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, alcohol or other medical conditions such as traumatic brain injury.
What Will The Doctor Ask Me When I Go For Help With These Symptoms?
There are several screening measures that help a doctor determine whether we might have PTSD that needs professional attention.
This screening tool is an example of the type of question your doctor will ask you in order to help him or her make a diagnosis of PTSD. It’s not to be used as a proper diagnoses; it’s just a guide.
Referenced from the American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Answer the following questions either Yes or No.
Does the following trouble you?
You have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event.
Do you have intrusions about the event in at least one of the following ways?
Repeated, distressing memories, or dreams.
Acting or feeling as if the event were happening again (flashbacks or a sense of reliving it)
Intense physical and/or emotional distress when you are exposed to things that remind you of the event
Do you avoid things that remind you of the event in at least one of the following ways?
Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations about it.
Avoiding activities and places or people who remind you of it.
Since the event/s, do you have negative thoughts and mood associated with the event in at least 2 of the following ways?
Blanking out important parts of it.
Have negative beliefs about oneself, others and the world and about the cause or consequences of the event.
Feeling detached from other people.
Inability to feel positive emotions.
Persistent negative emotional state.
Are you troubled by at least two of the following?
Irritability or outbursts of anger.
Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
Feeling constantly "on guard".
What Are The Most Common Treatments For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the organisation in the UK that produces guidelines on best practice in health care.
It recommends two types of treatment for PTSD: talking treatment and medication.
1. Talking treatments for PTSD
Talking treatments are types of treatments that involve talking to a therapist about our thoughts and feelings. A therapist is a person trained in one or more types of talking treatment. Talking treatments may help us manage and cope with PTSD, though it’s not a guarantee.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). This is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) specifically adapted for PTSD. NICE recommends that we be offered 8–12 regular sessions of around 60–90 minutes, seeing the same therapist at least once a week.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This is a fairly new treatment that can apparently reduce PTSD symptoms such as being easily startled. It involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling the traumatic event. The rapid eye movements are intended to create a similar effect to the way your brain processes memories and experiences while you’re sleeping.
2. Medication for PTSD
If we’re experiencing PTSD, in the first instance, we may not be prescribed medication. However, we might be offered medication if:
We also have depression.
We have sleep problems caused by PTSD.
We are unable or unwilling to try talking treatments.
If we’re offered medication for PTSD, this will usually be an antidepressant. While PTSD is not the same as depression, this type of medication has been found to help. NICE recommends four antidepressants in particular:
Paroxetine – can be prescribed by a general doctor.
Mirtazapine – can be prescribed by a general doctor.
Amitriptyline – must be prescribed by a specialist.
Phenelzine – must be prescribed by a specialist.
**Please remember I am not a doctor. THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING MEDICAL ADVICE. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.**