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Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is classified by The American Psychiatric Association as a trauma and stress-related disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a serious mental health condition. It may occur in those who witnessed or experienced a terrifying or traumatic event such as war, combat, a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, physical or sexual violence, a serious accident, or a loved one’s unexpected death. People who have been threatened with serious injury, sexual or physical violence, or death are also in danger of developing PTSD. Rescue workers, emergency personnel, and families of victims can also develop PTSD. PTSD manifests as recurring feelings of helplessness, horror, or intense fear.
Types of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Although PTSD is one condition, there are six subtypes. Not everyone has the same reaction to traumatic events. Responses, experiences, and symptoms are unique to the individual. PsychCentral describes the six types of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Normal Stress Response
In some cases, PTSD develops after a normal stress response. Events that cause a great amount of stress and tension, such as surgeries, illnesses, injuries, or accidents, can result in PTSD. However, in most instances, the normal stress response is successfully managed with therapy and the caring support of family and friends. Typically, the person should recover within three to four weeks.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder is similar to PTSD. If it is not treated, post-traumatic stress disorder often develops. Acute stress disorder can occur after the person experiences trauma, witnesses or learns that a traumatic event happened to someone close, or is repeatedly exposed to extreme details of a traumatic event. Symptoms of acute stress disorder can begin three days to one month after the event.
Emotional detachment and dissociative symptoms, such as derealization or depersonalization, are the main characteristics of this type of PTSD. The individual generally has experienced early life trauma and has additional mental health conditions. Their PTSD symptoms are more severe, and they experience dissociative amnesia and dissociative flashbacks.
The symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD are similar to other types. The two most significant differences between this type and others are that it is linked to one major traumatic event, and the individual does not have other mental health conditions. Uncomplicated PTSD is the easiest type to treat using medication, therapy, or both.
Complex PTSD occurs when multiple or repeated traumatic events happen over months or years. This type of PTSD often develops in cases of domestic violence or abuse, community violence, combat, and war. The chronic trauma that causes complex PTSD can occur during adulthood or childhood. People with this type are often diagnosed with dissociative disorders, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder. They typically have relationship and behavior problems such as substance abuse, aggression, or impulsivity. Extreme emotional issues are common and may include depression, intense rage, or panic.
Comorbid PTSD is the term used when the person has one or more co-occurring mental health conditions. Substance use disorder, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder are examples of possible co-occurring mental health conditions. It is best to treat comorbid PTSD and other conditions at the same time.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
For some people, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may begin weeks or months after the trauma occurred. For others, it may be years before symptoms appear. PTSD symptoms are typically divided into four groups.
- Intrusive Memories: The person may experience nightmares, upsetting dreams about the trauma, or have constant, frightening memories of the event. They may have flashbacks and feel as if they were reliving the horror. They often experience severe physical and emotional reactions to things that remind them of the traumatic event.
- Negative Changes in Mood and Thinking: The person may feel emotionally numb or have difficulty feeling any positive emotions such as love, happiness, confidence, or satisfaction. They have a sense of hopelessness about the future and negative thoughts about the world, others, and themselves. Feeling detached from friends and family, lacking interest in things once enjoyed, and memory problems are common.
- Avoidance: The individual will try avoiding people, places, or activities that remind them in any way of the traumatic event they experienced. They will also try to avoid talking or thinking about it.
- Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions: The person may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. They always watch for danger and are easily frightened or startled. They may engage in self-destructive or dangerous situations such as excessive drinking, taking drugs, or driving dangerously. Aggressive behavior, angry outbursts, irritability, and feelings of shame and guilt are common.
Treatment for PTSD
If you are experiencing PTSD symptoms, treatment can help. With the right treatment plan, you can learn to effectively manage your feelings regarding the trauma and experience fewer and less intense symptoms.