Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in people that have experienced or seen a dangerous or shocking event. We often hear of war veterans that develop PTSD from witnessing and experiencing life-threatening combat. Indeed, between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans developed PTSD in a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
We don't have to fight in a war to experience PTSD. A serious car accident, an assault, an animal attack, or other terrifying or traumatic event is enough to trigger PTSD.
PTSD symptoms can be chronic (ongoing), acute (immediate), or delayed (six months or more after the event). A few of the symptoms include:
- Flashbacks. Reliving the trauma over and over, with physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating.
- Avoiding places, events, or objects that remind one of the traumatic experience.
- Feeling emotionally numb, or strong guilt, depression, or worry.
- Easily startled.
- Feeling tense or "on edge."
- Angry outbursts.
When these symptoms last more than a month, a doctor may diagnose you with PTSD.
Sometimes, symptoms don't manifest for six months or more after the event. This is called Delayed-Onset PTSD. A small body of research suggests that Delayed-Onset PTSD occurs when someone experiences low-level PTSD right after the event. New life stressors may also trigger Delayed-Onset PTSD, as the new stressors may weaken one's ability to cope with the initial event.
To help prevent Delayed-Onset PTSD, it's important to address any symptoms early. Talk to a mental health professional, who can suggest PTSD treatments. Some of these treatments include psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and antidepressants. Self-care includes regular exercise, time with others, and relaxation techniques. Also don't be afraid to tell trusted friends and family what might trigger symptoms.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests certain resilience factors that may reduce PTSD risk. A few include:
- Seeking out support from friends and family.
- Joining a support group.
- Learning how to feel good about your actions in the face of danger.
- Using a positive coping strategy.
- Being able to act and respond effectively in the midst of fear.
On the other hand, childhood trauma, a lack of social support, a history of mental illness, and extra stress after the event can increase PTSD risk factors.
Although PTSD is a well-documented disorder with severe symptoms and consequences, many people don't seek professional help due to the social stigma around mental health issues. Know that even a short course of therapy can put you on the road to better peace of mind.
If you or a loved one has developed PTSD because of a serious accident, consult with a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer can determine whether you are entitled to financial compensation for this devastating condition.