COUNSELING: What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

B y Carrie Buckner

Often when we hear the term “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” we conjure up images of our current armed forces or war veterans from the Vietnam era. This is because PTSD is still a relatively new diagnosis and much of our society does not fully understand the prevalence and implications of the diagnosis. Though our military are highly vulnerable to this mental health diagnosis, PTSD can surface in any individual, child or adult, who has experienced or witnessed a trauma. It is estimated that 70% of American adults experience at least one in their lives and 20% of those individuals will develop PTSD. 

What incidents can lead to PTSD? Any experience where one is exposed to a threatened or actual death, serious injury, or sexual violence can lead to PTSD. This exposure can happen in variety of mediums: direct experience, witnessing the event happening to others, learning of the trauma happening to a close friend or family member, and even through repeated exposure such as first responders, police officers, and mental health therapists. Events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, war, domestic violence, car accidents, or even witnessing a sudden and unexpected death (such as heart attacks) can affect an individual so deeply that he or she exhibits signs of PTSD.

What are the signs of PTSD? There are many signs of PTSD because trauma affects our emotions, thoughts, and physiological responses. For one month or longer the individual may experience a variety of symptoms to qualify for PTSD such as: repeating and intrusive memories of the trauma, flashbacks of the event, distress (psychological or physiological) upon internal or external reminders of the trauma, avoidance of any aspects associated with the event, inability to remember important aspects, a belief that they are at fault for the cause or consequences of the trauma, hypervigilance (expecting trauma at any moment), problems concentrating, and impairment in functioning completely in daily life due to fear, panic attacks, withdrawal, flashbacks, etc.

Sometimes PTSD can pair up with other mental health diagnoses such as Depressive disorders, Anxiety Disorders, and/or Substance Use but there is hope in the professional treatment available. Though PTSD is relatively new in being recognized as a disorder, there has been much research accomplished to better understand PTSD and to find the most effective treatments.

If you need help dealing with a major or minor trauma, you think you might have PTSD, or perhaps need assistance for yourself in coping with a loved one with PTSD, help is available. Call Anchorpoint today at 412-366-1300 to schedule an appointment to begin the process of healing and peace.

Carrie Buckner is an intern at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry. She is working on a Dual Masters in Divinity and Masters in Social Work from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and University of Pittsburgh. She is looking forward to graduating this spring.