No two people will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the same way. The way it affects individuals varies greatly, ranging from subtle changes in day-to-day life, withdrawal and numbness, to distressing flashbacks or physical anxiety. Symptoms may be evident after a month, but sometimes can stay dormant for years. There isn't just one kind of PTSD because each of our experiences and coping mechanisms is unique.
Some recognised symptoms of PTSD include:
1. Re-experiencing the trauma
- repetitive memories (or flashbacks) that are hard to control and intrude into everyday life
- extreme distress caused by reminders of the trauma
- memories or disturbing thoughts that can be prompted by smells, sounds, words or other triggers.
- staying away from places, people or objects that may trigger memories of the traumatic event
- changing a normal routine to avoid triggering memories
- not wanting to talk about or think about the event
- feeling numb.
3. Negative thoughts and mood
- feeling a sense of hopelessness about the future
- negative beliefs about oneself or the world
- blaming oneself or others unreasonably
- intense worry, depression, anger or guilt
- loss of memory of the traumatic event
- no longer enjoying favourite activities
- becoming emotionally detached from others
- inability to experience positive emotions.
4. Increased arousal
- constant, excessive alertness
- scanning the environment for signs of danger
- being easily startled
- irritable or aggressive behaviour
- difficulty sleeping
- poor concentration.
PTSD is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders, depression or substance abuse. Up to 80 per cent of people with long-standing PTSD develop one or more of these other issues. Coping by trying to block out the memories with substance abuse can lead to addictions. PTSD can cause impairment at work and isolation from relatives and friends, as well as putting great stress on families. This is why early support and treatment is essential.
Children or teenagers with PTSD may have similar symptoms, but with some differences.
PTSD in children
- new onset of bedwetting when previously dry at night
- being unusually clingy with parents or carers
- acting out the event during play
- forgetting how to talk.
PTSD in teenagers
A teenager may experience any of the adult symptoms but may be more likely to:
- have a desire for revenge
- behave in a destructive, disrespectful or violent way
- increase risk-taking behaviour.
If someone appears to be experiencing these symptoms for longer than one month after a traumatic event, it's important to seek medical support or psychological assistance.
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Last reviewed: November 2016