All individuals experience stressful events which can affect them both emotionally and physically, as it is natural to feel fear during and after a traumatic situation.
However, some individuals who experience a catastrophic event may develop ongoing difficulties known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The event may involve a situation where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred (ex. they may be the victim or a witness of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence in the home or in the community, automobile accidents, natural disasters (such as flood, fire, earthquakes), and being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness).
Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some individuals may develop PTSD after the sudden death of a loved one; others may develop symptoms after a family member or close friend experiences a trauma.
The risk of developing PTSD is related to the seriousness of the trauma, whether the trauma is repeated, the proximity to the trauma, and the relationship to the victim(s) and having minimal to no social support after the event.
Symptoms of PTSD in young children may include:
- Play in which some or all of the trauma is repeated over and over
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep; frightening dreams
- Increase in sudden emotional reactions; increased alertness to environment
- Acting younger than their age (ex. unusually clingy, thumbsucking, bedwetting)
- Worry about dying
- Problems concentrating
- Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
Symptoms of PTSD in adolescents and adults may include:
- Avoidance of thoughts, places or objects related to the event
- Easily startled; tense or “on edge”
- Sleep difficulty
- Loss of interest in activities
- Difficulty recalling aspects of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world.