Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition you may develop after experiencing or witnessing anything traumatic. Common symptoms of this disorder include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.
After something traumatic, it’s normal to have difficulty coping and experience some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. These symptoms should go away on their own with time and proper self-care, but if they don’t you may be instead suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Who can diagnose PTSD?
PTSD can only be diagnosed by a medical professional, although there are steps you can take on your own to learn about the condition that may help you prepare for your appointment.
Per the Mayo Clinic, PTSD can be diagnosed through these tests:
- A physical exam
- A psychological evaluation
- A comparison of your symptoms with the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
What are the PTSD symptoms?
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, you may already be suffering from PTSD. These symptoms usually start within a month after going through the original traumatic event, but may take much longer – even years – to manifest in other cases.
PTSD symptoms can be grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. These symptoms are not mutually exclusive, and can vary over time or between different cases.
- Recurrent, unwanted memories of the initial event
- Flashbacks and reliving the traumatic event
- Nightmares about the event
- Severe emotional or physical distress to things that remind you of the event
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of the event
Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood
- Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Problems remembering things, especially about the traumatic event
- Trouble maintaining close relationships
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Trouble experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally hollow or numb
Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions
- Startling easily
- Always being on guard for potential danger
- Self-destructive behavior like substance abuse
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Aggressive behavior
- Feelings of guilt or shame
What are the causes of PTSD?
PTSD is caused by a complex mix of any of the following:
- Stressful experiences, such as trauma you have gone through over your lifetime
- Family history of mental health conditions
- Inherited personality features like overall temperament
- How your brain and body respond to stress
Risk factors can also include the following:
- Going through intense or chronic trauma
- Childhood abuse
- Exposure to traumatic events through job
- Other mental health risks like anxiety or depression
- Substance abuse
- Lack of a strong support system
What kind of traumatic events qualify?
PTSD is developed most commonly after witnessing or experiencing some of the following events:
- Combat exposure
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Violence or physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- Emergency, disaster, or accident exposure
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