Could I have post-traumatic stress disorder?

January 20, 2017 | by Erin Terada, PsyD, CEDS
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Have you ever experienced something traumatic – a shocking, scary or dangerous event where you thought your life (or someone else’s) was in danger? Sadly, going through a traumatic event is not rare. At least half of Americans have been through one in their lives.

It’s normal to experience a range of reactions after a trauma, such as feeling on edge or having trouble sleeping. Most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months. But if symptoms don't go away over time or disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

PTSD can happen to anyone at any age, says the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). We often hear about war veterans who develop PTSD, but other traumatic events can cause it too, such as sexual or physical assault or abuse, an accident or natural disaster, and the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. Some people even develop PTSD after a loved one experiences danger or harm.

The course of the illness varies. While each person experiences PTSD in their own way, there are four common symptoms that usually begin within a few months after the traumatic event:

  • Reliving the event through flashbacks, nightmares or frightening memories of the event
  • Avoiding things that remind you of the event, such as certain people, places or situations
  • Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before, feeling sad, guilty or losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling on edge, tense or being easily startled, having trouble sleeping or concentrating

Not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD. If you had a very strong reaction to the event or if the experience was very intense or long-lasting, you may be more likely to develop it. Finding support from other people after the trauma and positive coping strategies reduces the risk for PTSD.

How do you know if you are suffering from PTSD? The only way to know for sure is to talk to a mental health professional.

The National Center for PTSD offers a screening tool. In the past month, have you:

  • Had nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the event(s)?
  • Been constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from people, activities or your surroundings?
  • Felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the event(s) or any problems the event(s) may have caused?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, talk to a mental health professional. It does not necessarily mean you have PTSD, but a mental health care provider can tell you for sure.

The main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy (talk therapy), along with medication. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another.

In the meantime, expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately, and try to identify and seek out comforting situations, places and people. Research shows that support from family and friends can also be an important part of recovery.

If you believe you may be suffering from PTSD, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health can help.

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