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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder continued...

No one knows who will develop long-term effects. Seek medical care if you suspect you or someone you know has after-effects that just aren’t going away a few weeks after a traumatic event. These are the behaviors to watch for in loved ones, coworkers, friends, and family.

The main symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, emotional detachment, and jumpiness.

  • Flashbacks: Imagine experiencing the most terrifying horror movie you’ve ever seen playing over and over in your mind. You can’t make the images go away. These are the flashbacks so commonly associated with PTSD and usually are thought of in connection with combat veterans in war.

    • Survivors of 9/11, for example, may keep seeing the plane hitting the building, hearing the sound of the crash, or reliving their desperate escape, and these images may occur either while the person is asleep (nightmares) or awake.

    • Flashbacks take the person out of reality. They are truly living the experience over again. Holocaust survivors are one example of a group of people with a common horrifying experience. Many of them experienced flashbacks of wartime Berlin and being herded to concentration camps when they heard the sound of police-car sirens more than 30 years later. 
  • Emotional detachment: Emotional detachment is a second symptom of PTSD, which is often not as obvious outwardly to anyone other than the person experiencing it. For these people, their emotional systems are in overdrive. They have a hard time being a loving family member. They avoid activities, places, and people associated with the traumatic event. They are simply drained emotionally and have trouble functioning every day.

    • A parent who is emotionally detached, or numb, might be unable to cope with raising children.

    • The children, in turn, may develop poor social relationships, as was seen with some children of Holocaust survivors. They can’t form loving bonds. This is the second generation of fallout from PTSD on a mass scale.

  • Jumpiness: Any sudden noise might startle you, but for someone with PTSD, that noise would make them practically "jump out of their skin" (known as hyperactive startle reflex). These people might overreact to small things and have difficulty concentrating, which would affect their job performance. They may always be looking around as if searching their environment for danger (this is hypervigilance). Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep in this high state of arousal is also a common consequence.


When to Seek Medical Care for PTSD

Most people bounce back from traumatic events such as car crashes or assaults. Short-term, most of us would experience some of these symptoms of PTSD. But if any symptoms last more than a month and affect job performance or the ability to function in day-to-day life, consult a licensed mental health professional.

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