PTSD: When Past Traumas Haunt the Present Moment


PTSD: When Past Traumas Haunt the Present Moment

14:09 14 May in Health

The experience of a dangerous or shocking event can trigger a mental health disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When someone has PTSD, they can re-experience a traumatic event through nightmares, memories, or flashbacks, which can significantly decrease their mental and physical health. A person with this disorder can continue to feel fear, stress, and anxiety, months or even years after the danger has passed.

Around the world, about 3.9% of the population will experience PTSD during their lifetimes— about one in 11 people—according to the World Health Organization. It can happen to people of all ages, including small children.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms are often physical, mental, and emotional. Flashbacks of a traumatic event can cause sweating and an elevated heart rate. It may cause a person to distort their memory of an event, and it may even lead them to blame themselves for it. The effects of PTSD can cause people to isolate—especially from any people or places that remind them of their trauma—which can lead to loneliness. People with this disorder are also at risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

Other symptoms include:

• Difficulty focusing

• Nervousness and anxiety

• Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

• Becoming easy to startle

• Difficulty feeling happiness

• Feeling tense, irritable, and distrustful

• Self-destructive behaviors, such as drug use or self-harm

• Feelings of guilt

PTSD can be diagnosed in a person who exhibits symptoms that interfere with their daily living for at least one month. While its symptoms usually begin within three months of the traumatic event, they can sometimes develop later – even years later. Military veterans are often among those who are likely to have a delayed onset.

Some people who develop symptoms of PTSD will see those symptoms resolve in weeks. Others, however, will continue to re-live the traumatic event for months or years.

What are the Risk Factors?

Almost every person will experience a traumatic event during their life that holds the potential to cause PTSD, but most of them will not develop PTSD. The factors that increase one’s risk for developing PTSD include social and genetic causes. Groups with an elevated risk for developing PTSD after a traumatic event include people:

• Who have experienced earlier traumas, especially as children

• With a family history of mental illness

• Who lack social support

• With a history of substance abuse

• Who avoid talking about the traumatic event

• Who experience a traumatic event that causes additional stressors, such as the loss of a job or home or the death of someone close to them

How is it Treated?

There is hope for people with PTSD: Many will recover from this disorder. Effective treatments are available from healthcare professionals, which can help them manage their symptoms and feel less alone and afraid. These treatments include:

Talk therapy: Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, can help people build coping strategies and to change how they think about the traumatic event.

Medications: Often used alongside talk therapy, medications can decrease the severity of the symptoms of PTSD. These medications may require several weeks to work and are often a temporary treatment.

Peer support groups are also available to help people with PTSD meet others who also experience PTSD, connecting them to advice, support, and community.

If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD, the first step is to contact your physician or healthcare provider for an evaluation. Don’t suffer in silence – get the help you need to get back to living in the present.