Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the term given to a particular set of symptoms that may occur following a traumatic event. If you have been involved in such a situation, either directly or as an observer, you may be wondering (a) did what I experienced count as trauma and (b) are the sensations I’m now experiencing signs of PTSD?
It’s quite simple to clarify some of these issues. Starting with the first question about whether your experience counts as trauma. A whole variety of unpleasant events can be viewed as traumatic but the pattern of personal experiences may be different. Therefore, a link exists between the extreme feelings you may experience following a particular event and the event itself. Traumatic events vary in intensity and effect. For example you may find that a potentially life-threatening event like an earthquake or some other form of natural disaster is actually less traumatic than being mugged. Being mugged, or having your home broken into, feels far more personal than being caught up in a natural disaster despite the fact that the actual threat to life may have been much less.
Therefore, if you have not been through or witnessed a traumatic event you do not have PTSD.
Now, let’s assume you have. The next question to ask is, are you experiencing PTSD symptoms? There are several but common symptoms are distressing memories, flashbacks, nightmares, feeling anxious when reminded, feeling emotionally flat, disinterested in things and feeling edgy. And there may also be some changes in your behavior such as making efforts to avoid similar events or situations, changing the subject if someone raises it, stopping activities you once enjoyed, finding your sleep pattern is disrupted where is wasn’t before.
If you haven’t experienced such things then you probably don’t have PTSD.
Assuming you may have there’s another key question to address. Have any of these symptoms interfered with your life? If your symptoms have lasted for more than a month and if you feel your life is affected then the chances are you are experiencing PTSD. If that’s the case your next step is to seek professional help.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.