Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): What It Is Like?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is more common than we think. Here is a detailed look into the intricacies of it.

[ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that developed because of a terrifying event/s — either by experiencing it or witnessing it.]

In our daily conversations, we use the word trauma to refer to events that have been distressing on our nerves, or may have upset us to some extent. However, the concept has been treated extremely lightly, for even if trauma does imply to distressing events, the intensity of such experiences are far greater. 

Trauma are experiences of heavy negative feelings that stay with you for a long time after the negative episode has passed. It conditions not only our minds, but it is believed that our bodies store trauma even when it wipes off the memories. It most likely gives rise to conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Our understanding of PTSD is very flawed, in the sense, that it has been moulded mostly either by literature that we read, or the content that we watch.

PTSD is often associated with solely the war veterans. But, it is deeper than that.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be identified as a mental health condition where an individual experiences severe distress in reaction to the recurrence of the traumatic episode, or even an aspect of it.

These reactions are usually physiological, or bodily, in nature, accompanied by psychological symptoms. 

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After experiencing a traumatic episode, the range of reaction stays with us for some time. The repetition of an episode of the same nature in the near future, or that which include common elements, may cause distress.

But most individuals typically recover from such symptoms after a brief period of time. The ones who have a persistent problem, where they keep experiencing intensive distress upon the slightest trigger, are more likely to develop PTSD.


Symptoms of PTSD

Most people react a similar way after having faced a traumatic episode.

But just as mentioned before, these symptoms duly subside after some time. Sometimes, they take place immediately, or at other times symptoms do not emerge until after a year. The intensity and the course of the symptoms determine whether PTSD. 

The DSM-5, or Diagnostic or Statistics Manual for Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychological Association, lays down the definition and the diagnostic criteria for different mental disorders. Here, PTSD is included under the section of, Trauma and Stress Disorders.

According to the DSM-5, the PTSD symptoms have to be experienced by the individual for more than at least 1 month, and in an intensity that disrupts social or other aspects of functioning.

They are grouped as followings, and for an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, they have to experience the prescribed number of symptoms from each group-

(Please note: the alphabets used to mark the groups are made to match the markings on DSM-5)

B. At least 1 symptom that is intrusive, including constant, recurring, and involuntary memories and dreams that are extremely distressing. They are either about the traumatic event, or are related to it. 

Symptoms also include continuous flashback where the individual feels like the traumatic episode is taking place.

This can be accompanied by severe physiological and psychological distress, and can be triggered by even the slightest of factors that are directly or indirectly associated to the traumatic event.

C. At least 1 symptom that includes avoidance of thoughts, memories, or feelings that are associated with the traumatic event. It also includes avoiding people, places, conversations, etc., that have the potential to trigger their negative thoughts.

D. At least 2 symptoms from cognitive and mood alterations, including exaggerated negative beliefs about self and the world. It also includes self-blaming where the perception of the traumatic event is distorted, accompanied by constant feeling of guilt, anger, and shame.

It also includes symptoms like inability to- remember the aspects of traumatic event, to experience positive emotions, to take interest and participate in various life activities.

E. At least 2 symptoms from the reactivity category, wherein included are symptoms like hypervigilance (being overly alert and suspicious of your surroundings), exaggerated startling to small events, irritable outburst, self-destructive behaviour, disturbances in sleep and concentration. 

It is to be noted, that while the symptoms of PTSD are occurring, the individual is not under the influence of any substance including alcohol, drugs, or other medical conditions.


Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occur only in adults?

Contrary to popular belief, PTSD does not always have to be a mental health condition among adults. Since PTSD is a condition that stems from the experience of any traumatic event, one should not dismiss the experiences of a child.

What affects one cannot, and should not be, determined by another. 

In fact, the DSM-5 has separate categories defined for children aged 6 or younger. By doing so, they make provisions for the early identification of such a condition among children, and to bring medical help to them as early as possible.

Their condition can be identified through constant wetting of the bed, development of disrespectful behaviour towards adults, forgetting how to speak, or enactment of the episode through play. 


Who are likely to develop this condition?

At some point of their lives, every one experiences trauma in one way or the other. PTSD develops only if the symptoms mentioned above occur for the prescribed period of time.

Victims of not just war, but sexual abuse (especially children), domestic violence, physical assault, disasters, accidents, etc. can go on to have PTSD.

The DSM-5 also makes provisions for those who experience traumatic events indirectly, or second-hand. Individuals who have witnessed their loved ones experience a traumatic event can also develop PTSD.

Moreover, professions that are largely associated with witnessing violence or goriness – doctors performing autopsy, first responders to disasters, or violence in electronic media – are also much likely to develop this condition.

It is more common than we think it to be. It has been found that 6% of the global population, or 6 out of every 100 people, is likely to develop PTSD.

Though, women are more vulnerable to the condition than men, genetics too play a large role in the determination of the presence of the condition. 


How to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Treatment mostly includes medications prescribed by a psychiatrist. The latter might also suggest the appropriate form of therapy, like Cognitive-Behavioural therapy among the traditional form. 

In the recent decade, with the recognition of new forms of therapy like art or dance/movement therapy, new avenues of treating PTSD are opening up. Among kids, since play is an important aspect of growing up, play therapy can help to overcome their feelings of trauma.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is on the severe spectrum of the Stress Disorder. This condition is gaining the exposure and awareness more in the recent decade, with its accurate representation on popular media.

We saw Konkona Sen Sharma’s character in the Amazon Prime Video series, Mumbai Diaries 26/11, Chitra Das, experiencing PTSD as a consequence of her domestic abuse. Also in the line, we have our dear Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Watson on the BBC One’s version of Sherlock. 

Such portrayal on-screen leads to more awareness, identification, and acknowledgement of the problem that persists.

This condition is one of the lesser researched topic, and is witnessing the rise of interest, and subsequently development. One such argument is the presence of the word Disorder in the name. 

But that is a debate for the next time. 

Image source: ipopba and Iana Miroshnichenko via Getty Images

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About the Author

Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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