Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are bandied about in the news these days, especially with some of our military men and women returning from Iraq.

Do you actually know what PTSD is all about? In the past we called it shell shock. But it does not occur only in soldiers. Now we know that all humans and even animals (like dogs) are vulnerable. 

PTSD can occur after experiencing or witnessing any distressing event outside our usual experience, particularly one that happens suddenly, several times, or lasts for a long time.

People respond with intense fear, terror and helplessness when their lives, other people’s lives (especially people they love like their children or family),their physical integrity or their homes and communities are threatened. In order to survive in a dangerous world the body has developed a mechanism to help protect us at times like these. Our body floods us with the hormones, adrenalin and cortisol. We call it the fight or flight response and it is completely normal.  For most people these reactions disappear after a short period and then the body and emotions go back to normal, but if the symptoms continue past a month, the person (adult or child) needs help. The likelihood is that the response has gotten “stuck” and he or she has PTSD.

The events that may cause PTSD:

1. Natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods.  All these are events that are occurring in our country and around the world as I write.

2. Accidental disasters such as car accidents, a plane crash, fires.

3. Deliberately caused disasters such as wars (both the soldiers and the people who live in the war zone), murder, torture, rape,  child abuse, domestic violence.

Who do you think, in those three events is likely to suffer the most severe PTSD? You probably guessed it — according to research, the people in deliberately caused disasters. Most of us recognize that accidents and natural disasters will happen and we have little control over them. Stuff happens. But deliberately caused by another human? Wow! Whom can we trust now?

The symptoms of PTSD:

You do not need to have all of these symptoms to have PTSD. Usually, however, they are debilitating on some level. You need help now.  In order to have what is now called Post Trauma Stress (not a disorder) your symptoms will be less severe and will disrupt your life but are not at the point where the stress has become unmanageable. If you do not decide to see a psychotherapist, learn ways to cope so you can feel “normal” again.

These are taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used in the USA for diagnosing psychological disorders.

1. The persistent reexperiencing of the traumatic event. (Must have one of the following to be called PTSD.)

a) Frequent disturbing memories of what happened.

b) Recurring nightmares of the event.

c) Flashbacks.  Anything that reminds you of the event, (even as small as seeing a similar car as the one that hit you in an accident) can trigger reliving the experience as though you are actually there now.

d) Severe emotional distress when you are exposed to similar situations or any part of similar events, including anniversaries of the trauma.

2. Frequent avoidance of stimuli that are associated with the traumatic event. (Must have three of the following.)

a) Attempts to avoid thoughts or feelings of the event.

b) Avoiding activities or situations that bring back memories of the trauma.

c) Having no memory of an important part of the trauma.  This is a form of amnesia.

d) Depression. Loss of interest in what used to be important to you.

e)  Feeling detached from others and having diminished feelings as a whole. (e.g., Can’t feel love.)

f)  A sense that you won’t live long.

3. Increased anxiety and arousal not present before the trauma. (Must have two of the symptoms to have PTSD.)

a) Difficulty falling or staying asleep

b) Irritability or outbursts of anger

c) Difficulty concentrating

d) Hypervigilance

e) Exaggerated startle response.

f) Reacting physically, like breaking out in a sweat or shaking, when you are exposed to events that resemble the trauma in any way.

If you are thinking of suicide and/or are planning suicide, STOP. Call and get help from your mental health center, a psychotherapist, or crisis center/line NOW! Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is help.


 Do you or someone you know have Post Trauma Stress (PTS) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

This questionaire was written for everyone who might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but isn’t sure. It has not been tested for reliability or validity. However, it can help you determine your level of stress now and how it compares to before the trauma. If you are a family member or friend, check it out so you can determine how urgently your loved one might need help.

I would like to share this questionaire with anyone who needs it, but especially with our veterans and their families around Veteran’s Day. In the recent past and over the next months many of our brave service women and men will be coming home to a life and a family they hardly know. Many have seen things the rest of us cannot even imagine and we will expect them to readjust. But if history is any indication, about a third of the veterans will have or eventually get PTSD. Many more veterans will have what I call Post Trauma Stress. PTS is not as severe as PTSD, and is not unusual after what they have experienced, but it must be dealt with as soon as possible.

Use a scale of 1-5 and write the number in front of each question. Number 1 is “not at all.” Number 5 is “very often or very severe.” If most of your answers are 3 or over, you need to get help immediately. If you are thinking about or planning suicide contact your doctor, the VA, mental health center, crisis line, or call 911. Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Post Trauma Stress Test

__1. How frequently do you have recurring dreams or memories of the trauma?

__2. How distressing are they to you?

__3. How vividly do you remember the trauma in your memories or dreams?

__4. How often do you have flashbacks where you actually feel you are reliving the trauma event?

__5. How often do you feel distant from family or friends compared to before the trauma?

__6. How often do you feel like crying when you remember or speak about the trauma?

__7. How often do you have trouble falling or staying asleep compared to before the trauma?

__8. How often do you find yourself avoiding situations that trigger your memories?

__9. How easily are you startled when something unexpected occurs in comparison to before the trauma?

__10. How often to you feel you are unable to function normally in comparison to before the trauma?

__11. How often are you on the lookout for problems or trouble in comparison to before the trauma?

__12. How angry do you feel in comparison to before the trauma?

__13. How often do you have outbursts of anger you did not have before the trauma?

__14. How often are you depressed, anxious, not interested in things you used to enjoy before the trauma?

__15. How often do you have bodily symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, perspiring and tense mucles that you did not have before the trauma?

__16. How often do you think you may not live long compared to before the trauma?

__17. How often do you think of suicide?

__18. Do you have a plan for suicide? How firm is that plan?

__19. How much time do you spend alone in comparison to before the trauma?

__20. How often are you ill or in pain as compared to before the trauma?

__21. How severely do you think the trauma has effected you?

__22. How often do you feel confused or are unable to concentrate compared to before the trauma?

__23. How often have your symptoms or your experiences been ignored or belittled by others?

__24. How often do you feel numb or have no feelings in comparison to before the trauma?

__25.How often do you use alcohol or other drugs (both illegal and prescription drugs) to change your feelings as compared to before the trauma?

__26. Did you experience trauma as a child such as abuse, accident, etc? If yes, how often?


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