Understanding, Diagnosing and Treating PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can affect anyone at any age, can be difficult to diagnose because there may be a lag between the start of symptoms and the triggering traumatic event.  In fact, it is not uncommon for symptoms to start slowly and increase in frequency and/or severity over time.  This is one reason that understanding the signs and symptoms of PTSD

Heed these warning signs that your teen may have PTSD (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Heed these warning signs that your teen may have PTSD (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

is crucial for anyone who has experienced trauma or who has a loved one that has been through a traumatic event.  The key to managing and overcoming the disorder is timely diagnosis and treatment which underlines the importance of knowing what to look for and knowing when it is time to seek help.

There are many challenges for those living with and working with PTSD.  Diagnosis can be challenging because symptoms do not present the same way in every person.  The start of symptoms may not seem to link back to the trauma which can also lead to missed or misdiagnosis.  Because there is still much we don’t know about the disorder, it is difficult to predict who will experience it and who won’t.  There are, however, some common risk factors that seem to make people more susceptible to PTSD.

  • Previously experiencing a traumatic event
  • History of mental illness
  • Lack of social support following the trauma
  • Being injured in the course of the event

Diagnosis is made by a qualified mental health practitioner based on a discussion with the person experiencing the symptoms.  In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that a person must be experiencing at least one of the following for a month or more:

  1. One or more re-experiencing symptoms which include nightmares, flashbacks, and frightening thoughts
  2. Three or more avoidance symptoms like avoiding places, objects, or events that are similar to the traumatic event, experiencing a consistent feeling of being numb, losing interest in favorite activities, and difficulties with memory related to the event
  3. Two or more hyperarousal symptoms like being easily startled, feeling tense, feeling on edge all the time, and having angry outbursts
  4. Other symptoms that make it difficult to participate in daily life

While PTSD is treatable, it rarely resolves itself without the assistance of professional help.  Most people with the condition recover fully after treatment.  The most common forms of treatment are therapy and medication.  A variety of therapeutic approaches have been used successfully to treat the disorder including cognitive behavior therapy, talk therapy, and exposure therapy.  Most treatment plans use a mix of these methods to achieve the best overall result.  When medication is used as part of the treatment plan, it’s job is often to alleviate the symptoms of other underlying conditions like depression or anxiety that can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD and make recovery more challenging.

If you are concerned that your teen is suffering from PTSD, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with a qualified mental health practitioner.  Remember that PTSD is treatable and complete recovery is possible, but getting help is the fastest path to those outcomes.

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