Let's Talk Facts About Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-once called shell shock-affects hundreds of thousands of people who have survived earthquakes, airplane crashes, terrorist bombings, inner-city violence, domestic abuse, rape, war, genocide, and other disasters, both natural and human made.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. It has often been misunderstood or misdiagnosed, even though the disorder has very specific symptoms.
Ten percent of the population has been affected at some point by clinically diagnosable PTSD. Still more show some symptoms of the disorder. Although it was once thought to be mostly a disorder of war veterans who had been involved in heavy combat, researchers now know that PTSD also affects both female and male civilians, and that it strikes more females than males.
In some cases the symptoms of PTSD disappear with time, whereas in others they persist for many years. PTSD often occurs with-or leads to-other psychiatric illnesses, such as depression.
Everyone who experiences trauma does not require treatment; some recover with the help of family, friends, or clergy. But many do need professional treatment to recover from the psychological damage that can result from experiencing, witnessing, or participating in an overwhelmingly traumatic event.
PTSD usually appears within 3 months of the trauma, but sometimes the disorder appears later. PTSD's symptoms fall into three categories:
The inability of people with PTSD to work out grief and anger over injury or loss during the traumatic event means the trauma can continue to affect their behavior without their being aware of it. Depression is a common product of this inability to resolve painful feelings. Some people also feel guilty because they survived a disaster while others-particularly friends or family-did not.
Finally, many people with PTSD also attempt to rid themselves of their painful re-experiences, loneliness, and panic attacks by abusing alcohol or other drugs as a "selfmedication" that helps them to blunt their pain and forget the trauma temporarily. A person with PTSD may show poor control over his or her impulses and may be at risk for suicide.
Today, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have good success in treating the very real and painful effects of PTSD. These professionals use a variety of treatment methods to help people with PTSD to work through their trauma and pain.
Behavior therapy focuses on correcting the painful and intrusive patterns of behavior and thought by teaching people with PTSD relaxation techniques and examining (and challenging) the mental processes that are causing the problem.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on helping the individual examine personal values and how behavior and experience during the traumatic event affected them.
Family therapy may also be recommended because the behavior of spouse and children may result from and affect the individual with PTSD.
Discussion groups or peer-counseling groups encourage survivors of similar traumatic events to share their experiences and reactions to them. Group members help one another realize that many people would have done the same thing and felt the same emotions.
Medication can help to control the symptoms of PTSD. The symptom relief that medication provides allows most patients to participate more effectively in psychotherapy when their condition may otherwise prohibit it. Antidepressant medications may be particularly helpful in treating the core symptoms of PTSD-especially intrusive symptoms.
Other Sources of Information
American Psychiatric Association
© Copyright 2000 American Psychiatric Association
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The American Psychiatric Association is a cosponsor of the National Public Education Campaign on Clinical Depression in cooperation with the National Mental Health Association, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association and the DEPRESSION/Awareness, Recognition, and Treatment (D/ART) Program, National Institute of Mental Health.
Produced by the APA Joint Commission on Public Affairs and the Division of Public Affairs. This pamphlet was developed for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect opinion or policy of the American Psychiatric Association.
One in a series of pamphlets designed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses by promoting informed factual discussion of the disorders and their psychiatric treatments.
©Copyright 1999 American Psychiatric Association
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