PTSD is a short form of post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental illness that develops after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with war veterans. And while it’s true that vets are at a higher risk for developing the condition, they’re far from being the only ones. PTSD can result from any number of traumatic experiences, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or even childbirth.
Interestingly, you don’t even have to experience the trauma firsthand to develop PTSD. It’s for PTSD to onset after witnessing a traumatic event or learning of violence befalling a loved one. This type of PTSD is known as secondary PTSD.
People with PTSD may relive the event through flashbacks and nightmares; feel nervous and constantly on edge; or avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the trauma. They may also have trouble sleeping, experience irritability and anger, develop depression and anxiety, or abuse alcohol or drugs to numb their feelings and emotions.
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD typically fall into four main categories: intrusive thoughts, avoidance behavior, adverse changes in mood and cognition, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
Intrusive thoughts are recurring memories of the traumatic event that can be very distressing and happen without warning. They can manifest as thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares that bring back vivid mental images of the traumatic experience, and most people feel like they’re reliving the event all over again. The flashbacks can trigger physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and panic attacks.
Avoidance behavior refers to any actions taken by the individual to avoid thinking about or being reminded of the traumatic event. This behavior may involve avoiding people, places, activities, objects, or thoughts that trigger traumatic memories.
Negative Changes in Mood and Cognition
Adverse changes in mood and cognition are common among individuals with PTSD. The individual may feel hopelessness, guilt, shame, or anger. They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, become withdrawn from friends and family members, or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. These changes can make it difficult for individuals with PTSD to maintain healthy relationships and perform well at work or school.
Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions
Changes in physical and emotional reactions are also common among individuals with PTSD. The individual may startle easily, become irritable or aggressive, have trouble sleeping, or experience hypervigilance (always alert for danger).
Can PTSD Develop From Other Disorders?
PTSD typically develops after living through or witnessing a profoundly traumatizing experience. And while there is no scientific evidence that other mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can directly cause PTSD, they can significantly increase one’s likelihood of developing the condition following a traumatic experience.
A pre-existing mental illness weakens an individual’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety – making them more vulnerable to developing PTSD. Mental illnesses have also been linked to brain structure and functioning changes that may increase an individual’s risk for PTSD.
The Bottom Line
PTSD is a severe condition that can significantly impact every aspect of your life. And while experiencing or witnessing a traumatic experience is a common denominator in PTSD, having a mental illness can dramatically increase your risk of developing the condition.
Unfortunately, there is little we can do to prevent PTSD, but knowing your risk factors and recognizing the symptoms early on can allow you to take the proper steps to manage your symptoms and get support.
If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is essential to speak with your doctor or therapist immediately – they can help you develop healthy strategies to manage your symptoms and create an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs.