What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD refers to a type of psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced, or perhaps witnessed, a traumatic event. It is often associated with members of the military, which is why you may be familiar with its old name: “shell shock.”
This common mental health condition can affect any person of any gender, race, or ethnicity, and is more common in women than men. It can also have a wide range of different causes, including exposure to violence, assault or abuse, a brush with death or the death of a loved one, or a serious accident, among others.
Some causes of PTSD can also be more broadly situational. For example, the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused intense fear and loss for many people. Many doctors, nurses, and other first responders in particular may have been exposed to trauma during this time.
So what is the difference between anxiety and PTSD? It’s normal to conflate these two conditions, since PTSD can be classified as a type of anxiety and it often coexists alongside other types of anxiety, such as social anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. Where they differ is in precise symptoms, with a specific list of PTSD warning signs that include and sometimes overlap with generalized anxiety disorder, but are specific to a PTSD diagnosis.
The mental health community has been aware of PTSD for a long time. Today however, we understand it better—including the signs that someone is experiencing it.
What are Symptoms of PTSD?
The signs and symptoms of PTSD are as various as its potential causes, and it doesn’t always present in the exact same way from individual to individual.
You might be wondering then: how do you know if someone has PTSD? Here are some of the PTSD warning signs to look out for, both in your loved ones and in yourself:
- Frequent and intrusive thoughts and memories regarding a traumatic event
- Social isolation and difficulties feeling close to others
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep troubles
- Feelings of guilt or shame about an event
- Constant feelings of fear, aggression, anger, and/or sadness
- Extreme efforts to avoid thinking about a past event
- Feelings of being constantly on guard
As mentioned, many of these symptoms may overlap with other types of anxiety. In any case, it is worth seeking out professional help if these signs appear so that a proper course of treatment may be pursued.
The Stages of PTSD
Although the causes, signs, and experience of PTSD can and do vary among different people, the stages of PTSD often look quite similar:
Impact stage: The mental state of shock and high alert that occurs in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.
Denial stage: The attempt to downplay, ignore, or otherwise repress the traumatic event and the feelings that are associated with it.
Transition stage: The start of acceptance and healing, when an individual is able to recognize what is happening and begin to take steps toward recovery.
Integration stage: During and after PTSD treatment, when an individual starts to put the coping mechanisms they’ve learned into practice and pursue a more positive journey.
It’s important to note that these stages themselves may look different from person to person, and they may occur for different lengths of time. And unfortunately, not all people pursue recovery or successfully integrate into a more positive state of mind, though many do find success with PTSD treatment.
If you have a loved one who is experiencing PTSD, it’s crucial that you don’t take it personally. Instead, do what you can to lend support, including educating yourself, listening without judgement, and encouraging them to seek out professional help.
Learn more about Retreat Family, including our resources for the loved ones of those with PTSD and other mental health conditions. The better we understand PTSD and what it looks like, the better capable we all are of ensuring that everyone gets help who needs it.