At Kindbridge, we are experts at treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This blog explains the main causes, common symptoms and different types of PTSD, and how to get professional support.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder – commonly known as PTSD – is a mental health condition caused by a traumatic experience. It can involve flashbacks or nightmares which can feel like re-living all the fear and anxiety experienced at the time of the distressing event.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), PTSD affects around 9 million US adults. About 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. Women are significantly more likely to experience it than men. PTSD often co-exists with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.
Causes of PTSD
In the 20th century, PTSD was known by different names including “shell shock” during the First World War and “combat fatigue” after the Second World War. Today we know that PTSD is not just caused by war and experienced by veterans. Anyone, at any age, can develop PTSD following a stressful, frightening or distressing event. However, people subjected to physical or sexual assault, and ongoing trauma throughout their lives – including childhood abuse, domestic violence, emotional abuse or repeated exposure to war – are at heightened risk of developing PTSD.
Types of PTSD
There are several different types of PTSD. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing PTSD please get in touch and we can help.
Uncomplicated PTSD is generally related to a single event or series of events that occur over a short period of time. It does not co-exist with other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Uncomplicated PTSD is one of the most common types of PTSD and is highly responsive to treatment.
Comorbid PTSD occurs when someone has another mental health condition and/or a substance use disorder in addition to PTSD. It is estimated that up to 80% of people experiencing PTSD have a comorbid disorder, with the most common being depression, anxiety, alcohol addiction and substance abuse.
Dissociative PTSD is characterized by dissociative symptoms (depersonalization or derealization) and emotional detachment. Other features of dissociative PTSD include higher levels of co-existing mental health conditions, dissociative flashbacks, dissociative amnesia, more significant early life trauma and more severe PTSD symptoms.
Complex PTSD – also known as complicated PTSD, c-PTSD or CPTSD – can occur when someone has experienced repeated trauma, such as abuse, neglect or violence. The symptoms of complex PTSD are similar to the symptoms of PTSD (outlined below) but may include some additional symptoms, such as:
- difficulty controlling emotions
- feeling irritable, angry or distrustful
- constant feelings of emptiness, hopelessness or worthlessness
- relationship difficulties, and withdrawing from friends and family
- periods of losing attention and concentration (dissociation)
- feelings of guilt or shame
- destructive or risky behaviour, such as self-harm or substance abuse
- physical symptoms – headaches, dizziness and chest pains
- suicidal thoughts.
People suffering from complex PTSD are often diagnosed with co-existing borderline or anti-social personality disorder or dissociative disorders. Consequently, treatment for complex PTSD can take longer than other types of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
In most cases, the symptoms of PTSD develop within a month of the traumatic experience. However, in a minority of cases, they may not surface until months or even years later. Some people have constant and severe symptoms. While other sufferers go for long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they worsen. The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals, but they generally fall into four categories:
Re-experiencing (also known as intrusion) is the most common symptom of PTSD. It occurs when the person re-lives the traumatic event and feel their initial fear again. This can take the form of flashbacks, nightmares, distressing images and physical sensations such as sweating, trembling or feeling nauseous. Some people wonder why the traumatic experience happened to them and question whether they could have done anything to prevent it. This can lead to intense feelings of guilt or shame.
Avoidance and emotional numbing
PTSD sufferers often avoid the people or places that remind them of the traumatic experience, or avoid talking to anyone about it. Many people with PTSD try to avoid thoughts or feelings related to the event, often distracting themselves with hobbies or work. Others try to block out what happened by becoming emotionally numb and trying not to feel anything at all. This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and activities they used to enjoy.
A person with PTSD may be very anxious, easily startled and find it difficult to relax. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal. It often leads to irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia and self-destructive behavior.
Cognition and mood
PTSD does not always present as nightmares and flashbacks. It sometimes appears in mood changes that are completely unrelated to the experience that caused the PTSD. A person can have negative thoughts, distorted feelings of guilt and shame, or loss of interest in activities they once found enjoyable. They may find it difficult to remember the traumatic experience, and feel increasingly detached from their emotions and other people.
Get help for PTSD
If PTSD is negatively affecting your life and making you avoid people, places and activities that trigger or worsen your symptoms, it is time to seek professional help. At Kindbridge, we are experienced at diagnosing and treating a range of mental health disorders, including PTSD.
We understand that starting therapy may seem daunting. However, our expert counselors are ready to support you straight away. We can remotely diagnose PTSD and provide high-quality online treatment that is accessible from the comfort of your home.
Get started today by booking your free 30-minute consultation.