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Healthy Living - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an occurrence for people who suffer from or witness emotionally overwhelming tragic or threatening events. The diagnosis for PTSD is based on the length of time the trauma occurred and also the degree of trauma experienced. There is some research (Winerman, 2006) which suggests that people scoring higher on cognitive tests may be less vulnerable to PTSD while those scoring lower on IQ scales and other cognitive skills may be at higher risk for developing the disorder. Regardless of how it occurs, it is important for survivors to find ways to work through their traumatic episodes and get a sense of meaning and understanding of the event(s) that have taken place in their lives.

The following are factors which will predict who is at greatest risk for developing this disorder:

Pre-event Factors :

Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization

Previous history of depression or anxiety

Ineffective coping skills

Early substance abuse

Trouble with authority

Absence of social support to help out in bad times

Multiple early losses such as of people, possessions, home

Women seem to be twice as likely as men to develop PTSD at some time in their lives

Young adults under the age of 25 are more likely to develop the disorder

Event Factors :

Geographic closeness to the event

Level of exposure to the event

The events meaning to you

Being a victim of multiple traumatic incidents

Duration of the trauma

Existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue

Being involved in an intentional, man-made traumatic event

Participation in an atrocity as a perpetrator or witness

Post-event Factors :

Absence of a good social support system

Not being able to do something about what happened

Indulging in self-pity while neglecting yourself

Having an external locus of control

Inability to find meaning in the suffering

Developing ASD (acute stress disorder)

Having an immediate reaction that includes physiological arousal and avoidant or numbing symptoms

The following is a list of symptoms of PTSD:

1) You have been exposed to a traumatic event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury and your response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror, or your perception of the event led to these emotions.

2) You re-experience the event in one or more of the following ways: a) you have recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts or perceptions; b) you have recurrent distressing dreams of the event; c) you act or feel as if the traumatic event was recurring, and you may have a sense of re-living the experience through illusions, hallucinations, and active flashbacks; and/or d) you experience intense psychological distress or bodily reactions when exposed to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event (e.g., sights, smells, sounds, dated)

3) You persistently avoid things of events associated with the trauma and numb you response using three or more of the following: a) you make a great effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma, or to avoid activities, places, or people that would cause you to remember the trauma; b) you cant recall an important aspect of the trauma; c) our interest or participation in activities is much less than it used to be; d) you fee detached or estranged from others; e) your ability to feel emotion is restricted, as is your range of emotions (e.g., you are unable to have loving feelings); and/or f) you have a sense of a foreshortened futureyou cant see ahead into a far-off future (e.g., you dont expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span.)

4) You also have persistent symptoms of increased physical arousal that were not present before the trauma, as indicated by two or more of the following: a) you have difficulty falling or staying asleep; b) you have irritability or outbursts of anger; c) you have difficulty concentrating; d) you have hyper-vigilance; and/or you have an exaggerated startle response.

5) All of these symptoms have lasted more than one month.

6) Because of these symptoms, you are significantly distressed or impaired in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

The PTSD is acute if your symptoms have been there less than 3 months, and chronic if your symptoms have lasted 3 months or longer. It is delayed onset if your symptoms began at least 6 months after the stressor event(s).

Coping strategies for persons with PTSD

If you feel that you have experienced one or more significant traumatic events in your life, then there are things that you can do to help yourself cope with the trauma. Here are some suggestions that may be beneficial for you:

Relaxation and breathing techniques

Journal exercises to help you reveal and deal with your emotions

Deal with your flashbacks through journaling, movement, and halting the disturbing thoughts

Manage triggering events

Develop an internal locus of control

Build a social support network

Develop a regular sleep routine

Resolve your anger

Use positive self-affirmations

The specifics for successfully implementing these coping suggestions are complex and cannot be contained in this article. However, if you are interested in learning more about these or other techniques, then please be sure to contact me.

Suggested References :

A Clinical Handbook/Practical Therapist Manual: For Assessing and Treating Adults with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (1994). Meichenbaum. Institute Press.

Coping Through Cognition (2006). Winerman. Monitor on Psychology Vol. 37, issue 10, p 16-17.

The PTSD Workbook (2002). Williams amp; Poijula. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Questions or Comments? Please contact: Sabra Jacobs, Professor of Psychology, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, 1 Bert T. Combs Drive, Prestonsburg, KY 41653; email sabra.jacobs@kctcs.edu ; call (606) 889-4778; or stop by my office Pike Building, room 209 f on the Prestonsburg Campus.