What do vehicle collisions, rape, natural disasters and armed conflicts have in common? Answer: they represent just a few examples of the many unexpected and unwelcome traumas that can affect people for years. We cope with traumatic experiences in very different ways and while some people appear able to adapt and move on, others have greater difficulty. A particular group of symptoms, characterized by a state of inner distancing from the trauma, has become known as acute stress disorder (ASD). Of central concern to some experts is the fact that those who show symptoms of ASD are more likely to develop chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
The symptoms of ASD include a reduced sense of awareness of surroundings and a feeling of numbness or detachment from the event or situation. The person believes the circumstances around them aren't real (derealization) and they frequently refer to their feelings as though they were in a dream. Sometimes there is a sense of being entirely outside of the situation, like an observer looking in, but not actually being involved. It is as though the person is floating above or around the situation but their body is in a different place altogether (depersonalization).
When asked to recall particular features of the trauma, the sense of dissociation sometimes extends into memory. This seems to be some kind of protective mechanism where very significant aspects of the trauma become locked down. This form of localized amnesia is however a reversible condition.
People with ASD symptoms effectively show early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and for this reason some experts question whether it is a unique condition in its own right. For a diagnosis of ASD to be made the aforementioned symptoms must be present, but also a minimum of one symptom associated with PTSD. For example flashbacks of trauma, an active avoidance of reminders, and thirdly, increased vigilance, sleep disturbance, irritability, poor concentration and an exaggerated startle response.
As with most psychiatric diagnoses, there is a requirement that clinical distress extends beyond personal discomfort and in some way actively disrupts normal social and/or work functions. Further examples include aggressive or suicidal behavior, self-harm and sexual dysfunction. Symptoms must last for a minimum of two days and a maximum of four weeks, and must occur within four weeks of the trauma.
Various studies are now available to show that ASD can be effectively treated, and post-traumatic stress disorder prevented, witha brief intervention of cognitive behavior therapy.
Published On: June 13, 2011