What is PTSD?

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What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that that is classified as an anxiety disorder and usually develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience. PTSD sufferers re-experience the traumatic event or events in some way, tend to avoid places, people, or other things that remind them of the event (avoidance), and are exquisitely sensitive to normal life experiences (hyperarousal). Although this condition has likely existed since human beings have endured trauma, PTSD has only been recognized as a formal diagnosis since 1980. However, it was called by different names as early as the American Civil War, when combat veterans were referred to as suffering from "soldier's heart." In World War I, symptoms that were generally consistent with this syndrome were referred to in the military as "combat fatigue." Soldiers who developed such symptoms in World War II were said to be suffering from "gross stress reaction," and many troops in Vietnam who had symptoms of what is now called PTSD were assessed as having "post-Vietnam syndrome." PTSD has also been called "battle fatigue" and "shell shock."

Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) usually results from prolonged exposure to a traumatic event or series thereof and is characterized by long-lasting problems with many aspects of emotional and social functioning.


What does PTSD feel like?


​It’s being afraid to go to sleep because you know the nightmares are waiting. No one can be trusted. I constantly feel like someone is behind me. It’s being so hyper-vigilant every minute, it’s exhausting. Certain places or a flash of something brings it all crashing back down on you. It’s feeling like every day you’re going to die, and sometimes wishing for death just to get away from the memories.” — Jennifer T.


What are PTSD symptoms and signs?
 
The following symptom criteria are required to assign the diagnosis of PTSD in the context of an individual who has a history of being exposed to an actual or perceived threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence to self or others that does not involve exposure through media unless that is work related:

*Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (for example, troublesome memories, flashbacks that are usually caused by reminders of the traumatic events, recurring nightmares about the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma). 

*Avoidance to the point of having a phobia of places, people, and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma, or a general numbing of emotional responsiveness.

*Negative changes in thinking and trouble remembering important aspects of the trauma, holding negative beliefs about him or herself, a tendency to blame oneself for the trauma, a persistently negative emotional state, inability to have positive emotions, low interest or participation in significant activities, and feeling detached from others.

*Significant changes in arousal and reactivity related to the traumatic event(s), including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, reckless or self-destructive behavior, increased tendency and reaction to being startled, and hypervigilance (excessive watchfulness) to threat

The emotional numbing of PTSD may present as a lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed (anhedonia), emotional deadness, distancing oneself from people, and/or a sense of a foreshortened future (for example, not being able to think about the future or make future plans, not believing one will live much longer). At least one re-experiencing symptom, one avoidance symptom, two negative changes in mood or thinking, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or impairment in functioning in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned.