When tragic or life-threatening events such as an assault or military combat occur, those who experience trauma may develop PTSD. An anxiety disorder marked by intense fear and helplessness, PTSD is a protective response of the brain.
Symptoms can manifest themselves immediately following the event or weeks, months, or years later. Symptoms of PTSD can be both emotional and physical and include:
- Reliving the event through vivid dreams or painful memories
- Believing that the event is happening at the present time
- Emotional numbness
- Guilt, anxiety, or panic
- Being overly alert or easily startled
- Outbursts of anger
- Difficulty sleeping
Not everyone who experiences traumatic events develops PTSD. A person's risk may depend on:
- The response to the event at the time it occurs
- The intensity of the memory of the event
- Coping style, personality, or past life experiences
- Feelings of safety and support
Suggestions for Coping
- Encourage the person to talk about his or her thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event. A supportive network of friends, family and health professionals can make all the difference.
- Clear up any misconceptions the person may have about the situation. This is particularly important when talking with children, who may be inclined to feel guilt.
- Encourage the person to use effective coping strategies. Reliance on alcohol, overeating, and engaging in dangerous activities can only lead to more problems.
- Help the person return to his or her normal daily activities. Daily routines and activities can provide comfort and emotional stability.
- Suggest the person see a physician or check with local mental health and community resources. Professionals are trained to help victims of tragedy cope with their feelings.