When you think of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), you almost invariable think of war veterans – and you probably envision a man. The truth is that women are just as likely as men to suffer from PTSD – and war is far from the only cause. Five out of ten women experience a major, traumatic event at some point during their lives – and more than twice as many women as men suffer from some form of PTSD. Not only are women vulnerable to the same war-related PTSD as men, but battered women and survivors of rape or childhood abuse are particularly prone to this sometimes debilitating syndrome – and PTSD can occur at any age.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is an emotional and psychological disorder that can develop in anyone who has experienced a major trauma: any dangerous, frightening, or shocking event. While it’s normal to feel fear while actually experiencing such an event, some people have symptoms that last up to six months – or even years – after the event. In some people, this becomes a chronic condition that they must deal with for the rest of their lives.
How is PTSD Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of PTSD is usually provided by a psychologist or psychiatrist based on an individual experiencing at least one symptom from each of the categories below.
Re-experiencing symptoms can cause serious problems in an individual’s normal, everyday routine. They can be triggered by the person’s own thoughts and feelings, situations, words or even objects they encounter – anything that provides a reminder of the traumatic event.
- Flashbacks, psychologically and emotionally reliving the trauma, including physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, trembling, or sweating
- Bad dreams and nightmares, often related in some way to the traumatic incident
- Frightening thoughts or impulses that come up involuntarily
Trying to stay away from things that remind a person of the traumatic event – consciously or unconsciously – may cause an individual with PTSD to change their normal routine. For example, after a car accident, someone who usually drives may avoid driving or even riding in a car.
- Staying away from situations, places, events, or even objects that remind the person of the traumatic event
- Avoiding any thoughts or feelings that may be related to the traumatic experience
Arousal and Reactivity
These symptoms are generally constant, rather than being triggered by specific things that remind the person of the traumatic event. They often make the individual feel stressed and/or angry. Symptoms may make it hard to perform daily tasks, including sleeping, eating, working, or concentrating.
- Overactive startle response
- Feeling tense or irritable
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Experiencing angry outbursts
Cognition and Mood
These symptoms may begin or simply become worse after the traumatic event, but they are not due to any actual injury or substance use. The person may become alienated or detached from friends, coworkers, or family members.
- Difficulty remembering key elements of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself, others, or the world
- Distorted feelings such as misplaced guilt or blame
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
For those who suffer from PTSD, there is help. Psychotherapy and medications can enable them regain control of their everyday lives, even if they are suffering from chronic PTSD symptoms. The first step is getting an accurate diagnosis from a trained psychologist or psychiatrist.