How it happens
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction to trauma. Oftentimes we will see it in soldiers after they returned from a combat tour. However, it is common to see PTSD in victims of domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, robberies and gun violence as well as auto accident victims. What happens is the human brain tries to make sense of what has happened in a traumatic situation. The brain seemingly gets stuck at a fixated point, unable to move forward, almost like there is a psychological brick wall. Everything that one remembers, the sights, sounds, smells are constantly replayed in the brain, almost like sounds vibrating off of a wall and bouncing back up at you.
What it Looks like
Often times individuals with PTSD will be easily agitated or overly agitated. Something that might have irritated them before now seems to make them aggressively angry. You will have someone who is overly alert. Someone who was in an auto accident might be overly vigilant behind the wheel like stopping when they see something from the corner of their eye. You’ll have someone who has constant flash backs of their traumatic event, whether it’s a rape or gun violence or time served in a combat zone. Individuals will avoid any triggers to their trauma like avoiding anything that is connected to the trauma. Again, an auto accident victim will avoid the road the accident took place. Below are more criteria for what PTSD looks like diagnostically.
The DSM 5 Criteria
Although the diagnostic criteria are listed below, it is vital to seek out the counsel of a mental health professional who can help properly diagnosis PTSD. A mental health professional can also aid in diagnosing any co-morbid disorders such as depression, anxiety or substance use disorders. Please do not self-medicated.
Criterion A: stressor (one required)
The person was exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s):
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in the following way(s):
Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Symptoms last for more than 1 month.
Criterion G: functional significance (required)
Symptoms create distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational).
Criterion H: exclusion (required)
Symptoms are not due to medication, substance use, or other illness.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.