What effects can a traumatic experience have, and what constitutes such an occurrence? How do the traumas one faces reverberate through their life, and what are the risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder? Read on to find out more about the disorder’s possible causes, PTSD facts, and its diagnostic process.
The American Psychiatric Association (or APA) defines post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) as a mental health disorder derived from exposure to a stressful or traumatic event. It was first recognized by the APA in 1980, in the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III).
Initially, PTSD was listed as part of the anxiety disorders family. But like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it eventually formed its own group, with the APA listing PTSD in 2013 as part of the newly-formed trauma and stressor-related disorders family.
Both PTSD and OCD are rather unusual categories within the pages of the DSM, since both of their respective disorder families refer to a concrete or experience that must have taken place for such a definition to be considered. The case for removing PTSD from the anxiety family was further made by evidence that the disorder triggered many other emotions beyond anxiety, such as guilt, shame, and anger.
That said, the stressors family is currently the only disorders family not to be grouped by an overarching theme, such as depression or psychosis. Instead, the individual diagnosed with PTSD—or any of the other stressor disorders—must have undergone an event (or series of events) so traumatic as to understandably act as the cause for their condition.
The 12-month prevalence of PTSD among US adults is 3.5%. Outside the US, lower rates have been recorded, with European, Asian, Latin American, and African countries noting a PTSD prevalence of 0.5%-1.0%. Females are more likely to develop PTSD than males and tend to experience it for a longer duration. This gender imbalance is at least in part attributable to females’ higher likelihood of exposure to interpersonal violence.
PTSD statistics are higher for those working in vocations where exposure to trauma is generally higher. These include the police force, firefighters, and medical personnel. The highest rates of PTSD are found among survivors or rape, those who have experienced military combat or captivity, and those who have experienced ethnic/political internment or genocide.
For the purpose of defining its own, recognized PTSD causes, the APA lists only three types of events as potentially traumatic:
That said, such events do include various settings, such as a robbery, waking up during surgery, or a catastrophic natural disaster. The APA tends to acknowledge sudden events as potentially traumatic.
The APA states these and other traumatic events can either be experienced:
Specifying the above qualifications has brought on a great deal of criticism of the APA, over a number of points:
While undergoing a traumatic experience is essential for a PTSD diagnosis, it is not its only attribute. Additional symptoms include:
PTSD is not only a uniquely defined disorder, but also an extremely painful and destabilizing one. Combining potential elements of distress, dissociation, and the reliving of a terrible experience, PTSD often requires the support and guidance of trained professionals specializing in treating this condition. Such options include both medical treatments (particularly antidepressants), psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamics), and medical device treatments.