How Do I Know If I’m Suffering from PTSD?

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental condition in which an individual who has gone through a highly difficult or shocking experience and exhibits a specific set of psychiatric symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic staff, PTSD symptoms typically include alterations in emotional reactions, intrusive memories of the unpleasant event, vigilant avoidance of anything which reminds the individual of the event, and negative changes in cognition and effect.   

Onset, signs and symptoms

This condition may have a notably delayed onset. Symptoms may appear within only a few months after the traumatic incident or they may even take years to develop. First, the individual may experience intrusive memories. These include nightmares about the event, intense stress or anxiety in response to things that remind the individual of the event, unwanted memories of the event and episodes in which the individual has a “flashback” of the original event as though he was experiencing it again.   

For example, a veteran of war may have flashbacks from his experience on the battlefield when hearing a car backfire, mistaking it for gunfire. Likewise, someone who has experienced sexual assault may have intrusive memories of the event when watching a television program or movie depicting a simulated sexual assault. This is particularly difficult for people suffering PTSD, as it is often all they can do to attempt to avoid speaking or thinking about the event and avoiding activities, objects, events, or people associated with it.  

Those with PTSD may also suffer painful, negative changes in thought and affect. For example, they may suffer from negative perceptions of oneself and others. They may experience hopelessness and despair concerning the future, problems in interpersonal relationships, memory deficits, especially when it comes to memory gaps related to the traumatic event, and anhedonia (or the inability to experience pleasure in activities once enjoyed). In addition to the onset of intense negative emotions, the individual with PTSD may also report a disturbing absence of emotion or numbness.  

Changes in emotional reactions or arousal symptoms may also accompany PTSD. For example, the individual may be unusually irritable or prone to explosive fits of aggression or anger. He may suffer from insomnia, have difficulty concentrating, and suffer from intense guilt or shame. Finally, the individual may be unusually jumpy or hyper-vigilant, as though he is always expecting something dangerous to happen.  

PTSD and trauma

Trauma, while a necessary component of PTSD, is not always, in itself, sufficient to trigger the psychiatric condition. Two individuals who experience similar, or even identical, traumatic situations, may respond in a markedly different manner to the event. One may quickly get over the difficult event, whereas the other individual might begin to exhibit symptoms of PTSD. At least part of the difference that makes the difference between the responses of both individuals may have to do with a genetic predisposition which makes certain individuals susceptible to such a response to traumatic events.  

For example, in one study, 424 survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide were examined by researchers in molecular genetics. It was found that individuals who were homozygous for a variant of a gene which codes catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) have much lower levels of the enzyme. The researchers believe that this results in higher levels of neurotransmitters associated with heightened stress responses, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Indeed, individuals homozygous for this gene variant were found to be unusually susceptible to symptoms of PTSD. On the other hand, individuals who, although they experienced similarly traumatic events, only had one copy of the allele, were found to be less likely to exhibit symptoms of PTSD.   

Regardless of one’s genetic predisposition, everyone has their limits, and anyone who has responded to a traumatic event with suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming oneself is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to speak with a trained counselor. Such an individual may also want to dial 911.