What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Get the information you need to help cope with PTSD from Perspective Counseling Services, PLLC in West Point & Starkville, MS

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that results from the experience of extreme traumatic events. This disorder occurs when our normal fight or flight response is changed or damaged. Our fight or flight response is natural and it is designed to help protect ourselves from possible danger. When a person has PTSD, their fight or flight response is still occurring when there is no danger pending. Persons who develop PTSD have experienced a traumatic event, have knowledge of a loved one who has experienced it, or they have witnessed a traumatic event themselves.

Traumatic events can be: natural disasters, accidents, domestic violence, muggings, sexual assaults, and other events that are horrific in nature.

Signs & Symptoms
PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Flashbacks-reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person's everyday routine. They can start from the person's own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms
  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering certain aspects of the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or "on edge"
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant.

Symptoms can be triggered by environmental cues perceived through what one sees, hears, touch, tastes, and smells. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Children-the symptoms will somewhat different especially in very young children.

  • Bedwetting, when they'd learned how to use the toilet before
  • Forgetting how or being unable to talk- may become mute.
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adults.

*Older children/teens will manifest symptoms similar to adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

Who Is At Risk?

Women appear to be more at risk. Research is even suggesting that susceptibility to the disorder may run in families. Not everyone is experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.

Risk factors for PTSD include:

  • Living through dangerous events and traumas
  • Having a history of mental illness
  • Getting hurt
  • Seeing people hurt or killed
  • Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
  • Having little or no social support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home, and no access to adequate health care in a timely manner.

Resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:

  • Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
  • Finding a support group after a traumatic event
  • Feeling good about one's own actions in the face of danger
  • Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
  • Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.

Researchers are studying the importance of various risk and resilience factors. With more study, it may be possible someday to predict who is likely to get PTSD and prevent it.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have all of the following for at least 1 month:
  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least three avoidance symptoms
  • At least two hyperarousal symptoms

Symptoms that make it hard to go about daily life, go to school or work, be with friends, and take care of important tasks.
PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.


Psychotherapy-"Talk therapy"

Exposure therapy. This therapy helps people face and control their fear. It exposes them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing, or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings. Exposure is graduated from minimal anxiety producing imagery to more intense anxiety producing imagery as they become more ready and stronger.

Cognitive restructuring. This therapy helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way. Help persons to change the way he or she thinks about their experience.

Stress inoculation training. This therapy tries to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching a person how to manage their anxiety. Like cognitive restructuring, this treatment helps people look at their memories in a healthy way. Addresses the associated fear physically, behaviorally, and cognitively.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). It is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate stress caused by traumatic events and the memories created by those events.

How does talk therapy help?

  • Teach about trauma and its effects.
  • Use relaxation and anger control skills.
  • Provide tips for better sleep, diet, and exercise habits.
  • Help people identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other feelings about the event.
  • Focus on changing how people react to their PTSD symptoms. For example, therapy helps people visit places and people that are reminders of the trauma.


Antidepressants-target the depressive symptoms that are a part of PTSD such as sadness, worrying, anxiety, and numbness.

Side effects:

  • Headache, which usually goes away within a few days.
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), which usually goes away within a few days.
  • Sleeplessness or drowsiness, which may occur during the first few weeks but then goes away.
  • Agitation (feeling jittery).
  • Sexual problems, which can affect both men and women, including reduced sex drive, and problems having and enjoying sex.

Benzodiazepines. These medications may be given to help people relax and sleep. People who take benzodiazepines may have memory problems or become dependent on the medication.

Antipsychotics-These medications are usually given to people with other mental disorders, like schizophrenia. People who take antipsychotics may gain weight and have a higher chance of getting heart disease and diabetes.