An Introduction to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Lucia Butler
February 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely tied to an increase in cases of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) worldwide. Among numerous studies observing symptoms of stress and trauma in health care workers working during the pandemic, one published in Medicine, a peer-review medical journal based in Boston, cites a PTSD incidence rate of 16.8% among nurses in Hubei, China. 

According to the American Pediatric Association, PTSD already affects nearly 3.5% of the American population, although this percentage will likely increase in the wake of the stress, loss of life, and economic instability associated with the pandemic. Nevertheless, only around 40% of Americans in need of medical help for a mental illness receive it. One way to reverse this trend is by spreading awareness about mental illness.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that stems from experiencing a traumatic event and negatively interferes with day-to-day life, potentially impacting relationships, work, social life, and more for months or even years. Those suffering from PTSD may experience certain events related to their trauma which trigger flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, frightening thoughts, or more. According to the National Center for PTSD, a research center within the Department of Veteran Affairs, around half of women will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, and women are twice as vulnerable to developing PTSD. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians also develop the disorder at higher than average rates.

PTSD may manifest quickly or not until years after the trauma. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms are generally organized into four categories: intrusive memories, avoidance of circumstances that are reminders of the trauma, detrimental thought and mood patterns, and adverse physical and emotional reactions. These symptoms may cause severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic experience. As a result, having PTSD may mean reliving trauma through nightmares, memories and/or flashbacks. For a larger list of possible symptoms and other general information about PTSD, visit here.  
PTSD treatments may entail medications, therapy, emotional support animals, and/or practicing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapy treatment that can aid individuals in processing memories from their traumatic experiences.

Often, a beneficial first step in PTSD treatment is calling a hotline number for help from experienced medical professionals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and MentalHealth.gov offer hotlines, whose phone numbers are available here.

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