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PTSD: What You Need to Know

Letters to Strangers: PTSD 101

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a cognitive disorder that can affect people as a result of traumatic events - leading to depression, mood swings, and other symptoms. It affects millions of people from all walks of life. People involved in traumatic events such as wars, terrorist attacks, robberies, car crashes, etc. can be affected by PTSD. Events such as family trauma can cause PTSD as well. In general, the duration of the illness varies from person to person. It has a tremendous effect on the mind, which could then translate to psychosomatic symptoms, which is the manifestation of psychological distress as physical symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just soldiers that are affected by PTSD, but millions of civilians as well. The disorder can be debilitating for many people, and it is imperative to provide our care and support to those facing this challenge.

There are various symptoms associated with PTSD. These symptoms can affect people of all age ranges and have different levels of severity. There are two main categories of symptoms: psychological and psychosomatic. These symptoms can affect different people in different ways. Psychological symptoms are symptoms that affect the mind, like depressive thoughts or anxious thinking patterns. Psychosomatic symptoms, as previously mentioned, affect the body as a result of psychological stress. Common examples of PTSD symptoms are (ADAA):

  1. Re-experiencing the trauma mentally

  2. Seeing it in dreams, visions, hallucinations, etc.

  3. Instinctive fright or fear when recollecting the event

  4. Avoidance of related places, things, people, etc.

  5. i.e. if the traumatic event took place in the park, one with PTSD might avoid the park

  6. i.e. if the traumatic event involved a vehicular collision, one’s PTSD might be triggered by seeing cars or other vehicles

  7. Inability to sleep or relax, maintaining a tense state of being

  8. Hypervigilance

  9. Exaggerated reflexes

  10. Persistently intense feelings

  11. Anger

  12. Sadness

  13. Guilt

  14. Blame (self or others)

  15. Emotional Detachment

  16. Disinterest in daily activities

  17. Disinterest in activities one used to enjoy previously

  18. A decrease in social participation

  19. Inability to recollect specific details pertaining to the traumatic events

  20. Engaging in self-destructive or rampaging behavior as a method to cope with mental struggle and/or to forget the traumatic events

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect almost anyone and in almost any manner. However, certain populations may experience some symptoms at a higher frequency than others. Asian populations, for example, have been shown to face a greater degree of psychosomatic symptoms (Letters to Strangers). Psychosomatic symptoms can be very troublesome to deal with, because there is no apparent medical cause for their appearance in terms of bacterial infection and viral infection, but rather due to an underlying mental health issue. Cultural stigma can further lead psychosomatic symptoms to remain unresolved for years. The traumatic experiences that people may have faced can also lead them to face psychosomatic problems in the future.

For example, if a soldier returns from the war, they might develop hypersensitivity and hypervigilance due to the nature of the battlefield and the mental scars it left on the soldier. This is due to PTSD from witnessing gunfights and other events during their deployment. However, a soldier might also feel continuous joint pain after returning home. This is because of the psychosomatic influence of the battlefield: as the soldier continuously felt the recoil of a weapon, they developed a psychosomatic symptom of shoulder pain due to the PTSD from being in the battlefield. Domestic violence and other traumatic events can also influence the development of psychosomatic symptoms. Therefore, PTSD can lead to a variety of symptoms, both psychologically and physically.

There are also various triggers that can set off different symptoms. Recurring dreams of the event, for example, can occur without a trigger. However, seeing something one associates with the traumatic event (such as the car from a car crash, for example) can set off different symptoms such as hypervigilance. Managing one’s reaction to triggers is therefore an integral part of dealing with PTSD. By decreasing one’s exposure to triggers, one can mitigate one’s PTSD - but it is equally important to ensure that triggers don't become crutches.

Of course, not everyone is affected in the same way by PTSD. Children and adults often react differently, for example - potentially due to differences in maturity level. On one hand, children may forget how to speak, wet the bed (despite knowing how to use a toilet), reenact the traumatic event repeatedly, or become excessively clingy with adults (NIMH). They react much differently compared to adults who tend to suppress memories of the traumatic event. Adults are also more likely to avoid places, people, or things that remind them of the event instead of actively demonstrating the exact details of the particular event.

PTSD can be treated through the use of mental therapy with a psychologist or certain medicines (antidepressants, relaxants, etc.). Getting treatment is in one’s best interest and is covered by most health insurances. Living through a traumatic event can be immensely mind-altering. But rest assured that no one is in this fight alone: 13 million Americans deal with PTSD every day (Sidran Institute). As people continue to speak out about PTSD, there are good reasons to hope for a better and better future.


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