Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Published on October 31, 2013

We can only control our lives to a certain extent. At the end of the day, many things are outside our influence.

In life, there’ll be things that will shock, anger, sadden and hurt us --- and they can come with absolutely no warning. Some of these unexpected events can be considered as traumatic events.

What is Trauma?

“Trauma” refers to the impact of an event or series of events so intense, it causes significant changes in a person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

What is traumatic for one person is not necessarily traumatic for another, although there are major life events generally considered as traumatic: the death of a loved one, physical/ verbal/ sexual abuse, natural or a man-made disaster, terrorism and war, and bankruptcy. The main determinant of whether an event will become traumatic is the person's repertoire of coping resources. Trauma happens when the impact of an event is way greater than a person's ability to cope.

An event need not happen directly to a person for it to be traumatic; at times, merely observing an extreme event can cause trauma, as is the case with persons who witness violence or hear about other’s difficulties.  

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is the diagnosis given to severe anxiety experienced after exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD can occur immediately after a traumatic event, or after a significant time has passed. The latter kind is called PTSD with delayed onset.

PTSD can be acute (lasting for three months or less), or chronic (duration is more than six months). The duration of this condition depends on a variety of factors, including the intensity of the traumatic event, a person’s coping resources, existence of social networks, and the intrusions of further traumatic events and stress that make recovery more difficult.

What are the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The following are symptoms associated with PTSD;

  • Persistent re-experiencing of traumatic event. A person with PTSD is often troubled by unwanted recollections of the traumatic event. For example, a person who survived a robbery can have intrusive mental pictures of the robber while he or she is doing regular tasks at work. Sensory hallucinations can also occur; for example a tsunami survivor can have moments when he or she hears the sound of waves, or smell the cadavers after the tragedy. These unwanted recollections don’t just occur during waking hours; persistent nightmares can also be a symptom of PTSD.

  • Constant avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma. A person with PTSD also finds it extremely difficult to be around anything that reminds him or her of the traumatic event. Reactions to proximity to such stimuli can range from feelings of fear, anger or sadness, to extreme panic attacks. Avoidance of traumatic information can include physically staying away from a particular location, inability to remember painful information, numbing of one’s feelings, and a feeling of detachment from people or situations that serve as reminders of the traumatic event.

  • Hyper-arousal. Lastly, people experiencing PTSD often become overly vigilant and excessively aware of their surroundings. Hyper-arousal can involve difficulty in falling asleep, oversensitivity to certain sights, sounds or smells, and a feeling of constant alertness in case the traumatic event should recur. For example, survivors of war often find themselves on the constant look-out for signs of combat or danger.

These symptoms have to be present for at least one month before a mental health professional can diagnose a condition as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What to do if you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you suspect that you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or you think that someone you know has this condition, the following are just some of the things that you can do:

  • Understand what PTSD is and what it's not. A question commonly asked by persons with PTSD is whether they are still "normal." While the severe symptoms can make you feel like you've lost all grip on life, what you're going through is actually appropriate reaction given the extreme nature of what you have to survive. In short, it's the situation that caused you trauma that's abnormal, not you. Read quality materials about PTSD (this NIMH primer is a good place to start). Awareness is already winning half the battle.

  • Consult a mental health professional. There are various treatment options available for post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of them have been proven effective. These treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy, systemic counseling and psychodynamic therapy. Expressive therapies like art therapies can also relieve the pressure and set you towards recovery. If needed, you may be recommended to take anti-anxiety medication to get immediate relief and pre-dispose you better to psychotherapy. Consult a licensed counselor, psychiatrist or psychotherapist in your area to know how you can avail of these treatments. 

  • Join a support group. One of the best ways of dealing with a traumatic event is to interact with people who can understand what you're going through.  For instance, survivors of a natural disaster can bond together and meet regularly for facilitated group therapy or simple cake and coffee. Similarly, joining organizations that cater precisely to your unique situation (e.g. a non-profit for battered women) can help you get in touch with others in the same boat. 

  • Reach out to family and friends. Never underestimate the value of reaching out to understanding friends and family members! Having those who care about you around can restore a sense of safety and security as well as give you an avenue to vent. Loved ones remind you that you're not alone, that in spite of your negative experience you still have a lot to live for and you'll still be accepted without condition.

If you need a counselor in Manila or a therapist in Manila who can help you deal with post traumatic stress, contact Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services through (02) 4040699, +639101269540, +639272244598 for information about your options. We will always reply to you within 48 hours.

Category(s):Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Written by:

Kay Vardeleon

Karen Rose "Kay" Vardeleon, RPsy is a registered psychologist and a PAP-certified specialist in Counseling Psychology. She is a co-founder of Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services in Quezon City, where she holds clinic hours.

She is passionate about work with persons with mood disorders, survivors of abuse and trauma, persons with non-chemical addictions, adult children of addicts, and individuals needing inner child work.

Kay Vardeleon belongs to Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services - Makati Branch in Philippines