Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also known as Critical Incident Stress is an emotional and psychological reaction to trauma. Trauma can be defined as a painful shocking experience or event. Trauma has lasting effects on the individuals who witnessed or survived some type of abnormal event. Individuals who survived the following events are more than likely to suffer from PTSD war, terrorist attack, violent crime, suicide of a loved one, unexpected death of a loved one, diagnosis of a life threatening illness, flight from a violent country, torture, sexual assault or rape, kidnapping, child abuse, family violence, natural disaster (hurricane, flood or earthquake), hostage situation, fire, car crash or plan crash.

Children who have experienced the following may also suffer from PTSD. Many abused children feel that they deserved the punishment. As a result of the physical abuse they will often have very low-self esteem. Children who have been victims of sexual abuse also experience PTDS. They often have a sense of betrayal because of being violated by the people they loved and should have been able to trust. The child may become isolated, lonely and fearful because trust has been broken. Survivors of rape, sexual abuse or torture often have trouble opening up about what happened to them.

They feel that they did or said something to cause the attack and often times will suffer in silence to protect their loved ones. It is common for survivors to experience a sense of guilt and shame that can last for years. However, in order for them to heal it’s important for them to understand that they are not the blame for what happened. And being able to talk about what happened to them with someone they can trust will also help.

When a parent dies a child may also be affected by PTSD. Because children really don’t understand death and dying, they oftentimes will feel abandoned and rejected when a parent dies. PSTD symptoms in children may include reliving the event through repetitive play, tantrums, separation anxiety, thumb sucking or bed-wetting.

The symptoms of PTSD vary and can occur immediately or shortly after the event has taken place. It is common for symptoms to come and go for years. These symptoms may include re-experiencing the trauma and having recurrent memories or flashbacks. Oftentimes, survivors can’t stop reliving the trauma in their mind or can they predict when such memories will return. People with PTSD may also experience nightmares, recalling the trauma nightly in their sleep.

Symptoms of PTSD also include physical symptoms but many survivors may not realize that headaches, nausea, stomach pain and chest pain are signs of PTSD. Symptoms also include anxiety attacks such as insomnia. Fear of nightmares can make sleeping difficult for PTSD. Jumpiness is another symptom. Some survivors of traumatic events are unable to relax. They are constantly “on guard” and most often will try to avoid situations that remind them of the trauma. Irritability or outbursts of anger are as well as difficulty concentrating.

PTSD is treatable and recovery is a process. Anytime an individual experiences an event that traumatized them, they may go through stages of healing before total recovery is complete. Most cases of PSTD can be treated on an outpatient basis. However, if a person is at risk of suicide or hurting others, hospitalization may be necessary.
During recovery survivors often experience fear and sadness. They fear that the event will happen again. They may also feel sad over the loss of trust in themselves and others. However, as they work through their fears they will learn to both recognize their fears and anxieties and how to overcome them. Some people with PTSD may deny that the crisis has had any effect on them or they may deny that it happened at all. Recovery takes time. Eventually most survivors learn how to accept the changes that occurred in their lives as a result of the trauma. As one overcomes they begin to feel stronger than they felt before.

The following agencies offers help for survivors experiencing PTSD. National Center for PTSD, 802-296-6300, Sidran Institute (Traumatic Stress Education and Advocacy) 410-825-8888, Anxiety Disorders Association of America 240-485-1001, PTSD Alliance 877-507-7873
For additional information contact your local Social Services or Mental Health agency about the following resources such Victim Assistance Centers, Veterans Administration (VA) Hospitals, Disaster Response Agencies and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPS).

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