Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by a person living through (witnessing or experiencing) a terrible experience which is very frightening. Such major events are often violent (called traumatic). Events that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • being raped or sexually abused
  • experiencing violence in the home (domestic violence)
  • being a victim of a violent crime
  • being involved in a war/combat
  • being in a car or plane crash
  • being in a hurricane or tornado
  • being in a fire
  • observing major events like those above, plus
  • child abuse
  • street violence
  • homicide or suicide

Post-traumatic Stress DisorderUsually within three months of the terrible event, the person begins to repeatedly re-live the event. However, some people don’t begin to relive the event until years later.

The signs or symptoms which the person develops may include:

  • nightmares or flashbacks
  • inability to escape memories of the event
  • irritability and outbursts of anger
  • violent feelings and behavior
  • intense distress on exposure to reminders of the event
  • withdrawal from situations that might lead to reminders
  • depression

People of color who live in low income communities may be at increased risk, because of higher rates of violence. The affected person is usually haunted with intense fear, horror or a feeling of helplessness. Symptoms usually appear within one month after the event, and may include depression.

Treatment involves behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, and psychotherapy. Of these, supportive psychotherapy is especially important because of the intense anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. The therapist assures the person of the validity of his response, and yet encourages recall of his or her memories during behavioral therapy sessions, as a part of the recovery process.

For more information, you may contact the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) by calling call 1-88-88-ANXIETY or 1-888-826-9438.