What causes some people and not other to develop PTSD?

After going through a traumatic event, it’s natural to experience some emotional repercussions. Anxiety, fearfulness, irritability, and numbness are all normal feelings that may arise in the wake of a trauma. In most cases, these feelings will subside as time goes on. But for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, these symptoms persist, and sometimes intensify.

Risk factors for developing PTSD

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of the United States population, with up to one in eleven people being diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. While PTSD affects people of all ages and from all walks of life, some people have an increased chance of developing it.

Risk factors for developing PTSD include:

  • Gender

Research shows that women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

  • Genetics

Studies have found a link between PTSD and other inherited psychiatric disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia.

  • Lack of a support system

People who don’t have strong connections with family or friends are more likely to have stronger physical and emotional reactions to trauma.

  • Pre-existing mental health conditions

Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, or having a history of substance abuse, elevates your risk of developing PTSD.

Traumatic events that can cause PTSD

A PTSD diagnosis requires exposure to a traumatic event, either indirect or firsthand, but some traumas carry a higher risk of developing PTSD than others – especially those that are extreme or life threatening. Some commonly reported events and experiences that can trigger PTSD include:

  • Physical assault

  • Sexual violence

  • Exposure to combat or being in a war zone

  • Childhood physical or sexual abuse

  • Major accidents

  • Medical emergencies

  • Natural disasters

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD usually start within three months of the traumatic event, but in some cases, they can begin much later. To be diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms must persist for at least one month, and be serious enough to interfere with your ability to go about your daily life.

PTSD symptoms fall into four major categories:

  • Intrusive thoughts

This includes uncontrolled flashbacks and nightmares that cause victims to re-experience their trauma as if it is happening in the present moment.

  • Negative feelings

Guilt, blame, and apathy can contribute to feelings of detachment and alienation, which often worsens symptoms of PTSD.

  • Reactive symptoms

People with PTSD may constantly feel on edge, stressed out, and irritable, making it difficult to sleep or participate in daily activities.

  • Avoidance

It is common for people with PTSD to avoid talking about the traumatic event, or to stay away from places or things that remind them of the incident.

Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder

Before treatment for PTSD can begin, it’s important to obtain an accurate diagnosis by a skilled mental health professional. Every case of PTSD is different, so your treatment plan must be customized to fit your specific needs. In general, most people with PTSD are treated with some combination of the following:

  • Psychotherapy

Talking with an experienced psychotherapist can teach you coping skills to deal with memories of your trauma and change thought patterns that are causing you distress. Therapy can happen individually or in groups, and can involve exposure to situations you’ve been actively avoiding.

  • Medication

Some people with PTSD benefit from the use of antidepressants, such as Paxil or Zoloft, which can calm your body’s “fight or flight” response and alleviate the intensity of nightmares and flashbacks.

By working closely with a mental health professional, you’ll be able to overcome your PTSD symptoms and return to living a happy, fulfilling life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment at Alvarado Parkway Institute

If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help you get your life back on track. With over 35 years of experience providing mental health services to the people of San Diego, our mission is to empower our patients to understand their conditions so they can manage their symptoms and live healthy, productive lives.

For more information about our PTSD treatment programs, give us a call us at (619) 667-6125 today.