What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Would you know PTSD if you experienced it?

PTSD is something that we hear a lot about, but most people have only a general idea what it involves.  PTSD was first recognized in returning military veterans. It has since been recognized in children who were abused, in cases of domestic violence, as the result of sexual assaults as well as the result of other traumas. While each case of PTSD is unique, they have many features in common.  Many people with PTSD may also have one or more other psychiatric disorders, some of which are likely the result of traumatic incidents. Below is a list of the features that professionals use to identify PTSD.

PTSD involves a specific trauma.

Something has happened or there was a high risk it would happen.  This trauma involved death, possible serious bodily injury, or a sexual assault. This event needs to happen to you or someone close to you, not just be something you saw on the television.  This event was either violent or sudden and unexpected.

Also included in the definition of a trauma below, are the effects which dealing with the incident has on first responders or other emergency personnel.

This traumatic event keeps forcing its way back into your life.

Part of PTSD symptoms are the recurrent memories of the event.  You may have nightmares about what happened or things connected to that event.  Some people with PTSD experience spacing out or dissociation.  You may also experience flashbacks and in these times it can feel like the event is happening again.

These recurrent intrusive memories are easily triggered.  Both internal triggers, thoughts and feelings, and external triggers, people, places, and things, may bring back the memory.

People with PTSD try to avoid reminders.

There are all kinds of ways to avoid being reminded of something that has happened. You may avoid going to certain places or events. People may turn to drugs, alcohol or other distractions.  They may try to avoid having feelings, or other thoughts about the incident.

Sometimes the brain does this job for you.  You may find that there are periods of time for which you have no memory. Some people describe this as having a blackout or amnesia.  They may avoid activities which are in any way connected to these unpleasant memories.

Behavior changes when you experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

People with this disorder often become irritable and angry.  They may become either self-destructive or reckless.  Part of this condition is having an exaggerated startle response.  In the aftermath of the trauma, people may develop poor concentration and impaired sleep.  Someone with PTSD may stop engaging in activities that used to be fun, they detach from others and may say that they just can’t feel happy.  These behavioral changes are also characteristic of depression, and the two disorders often occur together.

PTSD can cause cognitive changes.

In the aftermath of trauma, it is common for people to blame themselves.  They may tell themselves that if they hadn’t been there, or had been more careful, it would not have happened.  Negative thought patterns may develop.  People begin to feel bad about themselves, other people, and the future.  These cognitive changes can result in developing depression.

PTSD needs to last a while and not be something else.

This condition is expected to last more than a month after the stressor.  As with the other things we are calling a mental illness this needs to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships, your enjoyable activities or cause you personal distress. Otherwise, you may have the issues but you will not get the diagnosis. If the only time this happens is when you are under the influence of drugs or medicines or because of some other physical or medical problem we’re likely to think this is something other than PTSD.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

For more on this topic see Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. 

See Recommended Books.     More “What is” posts will be found at “What is.”

What is an Adjustment Like Disorder? (F43.9)

8 warning signs you have PTSD.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Words about PTSD

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Could you have PTSD?

There is a whole lot more Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) around than we would like to recognize. People struggle with the symptoms, sometimes for a lifetime. Often they think they are weak or crazy when in fact they have a recognized illness. PTSD is treatable if only those who have it would seek help.

There are three main causes of PTSD. One huge source of the illness is living through the horrors of war, either as a combatant or a civilian in a war zone. The recurring theme of so many young Americans sent off to wars in distant lands guarantee’s that we will be seeing an expanding number of PTSD cases for years to come.

Other large groups with PTSD are children who were abused and those who have been victims of domestic violence. There can be other sources of PTSD, such as witnessing a violent death or living through a natural disaster.

So what are the warning signs that you or someone you know has PTSD?

With PTSD you relive the horror day after day.

If the memory never goes away, you have recurrent thoughts about that time, that place, and it upsets you, these are all signs of PTSD. The key here is, are the thoughts intrusive? Some people especially young children get “stuck” they relive the events over and over, incorporating the things they have experienced into their play and their daily routines

The pain of PTSD follows you into your dreams.

We all have dreams; the mind tries to work out problems and save memories. Dreams in PTSD are different. The same dream recurs. It is as if you are living through the event all over again. People with PTSD can wake up screaming. If you are afraid to go to sleep for fear you will have that dream again or you don’t remember the last time you had a full night’s sleep you should be checked out for PTSD.

The feeling that the trauma is still happening is a sign of PTSD.

The trauma does not slip into the past. Every day you live through it again. This feeling of reliving the horror can be heightened by alcohol, some drugs or a new traumatic event.

If you avoid feelings, thoughts and can’t talk about the trauma it may be PTSD.

Many returning veterans have never been able to talk about the things they experienced. When they do talk, it is usually only with other military veterans who have had similar experiences. Many with PTSD are never able to talk about their trauma outside a peer group.

Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma is a symptom of PTSD.

Holiday celebrations, people who wear particular cultural styles of clothing, smells and ethnic foods, all of these can trigger a recurrence of symptoms. These recurrences are not just memories but reliving both the facts and the feelings of the first event. People with PTSD may panic and be unable to be around particular things that remind them of the traumatic incident.

Blackouts and memory gaps are common in people with PTSD.

People with PTSD may be horrifically frightened of things that remind them of the trauma but unable to recall large parts of the incident. Frequently important facts are forgotten. They see small details with great accuracy but other important parts of the story are lost in the fog.

With PTSD you experience a loss of connection.

People with PTSD lose interest in people and things around them. They find it difficult to participate in activities with others. They may become detached or unable to feel. They don’t see themselves as having a future, no family, no career. They don’t expect to live long.

Lots of episodes of sudden excessive emotions may be PTSD.

If you have PTSD you may suddenly become angry. You may be extra anxious, jump at the smallest sound. You may have trouble concentrating, be irritable and unable to relax or sleep.

A precise diagnosis of PTSD should be made by a professional. There are other illnesses and problems that could resemble this condition. But if you experienced trauma you probably recognized yourself in this list.

For more information on Stress and PTSD see:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD and bouncing back from adversity

Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) vs. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.