Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event that you either experience yourself or witness. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Any event that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can trigger PTSD.
The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. Remember, PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened. Treatment typically includes psychotherapy with a mental health professional, family therapy, and medication.
What is normal?
After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, or anxious. It’s also very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. For most people these symptoms last for several days or maybe weeks. But if the upset doesn’t fade, and you feel stuck with a constant sense of danger and painful memories, you may be suffering from PTSD.
What are common signs and symptoms?
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types.
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reactions:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Angry outbursts or aggressive behaviour
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
Should I seek help?
If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they're severe, or if you feel you're having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome.
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, seek emergency treatment immediately—call 911 or the Nova Scotia Mental Health Crisis line at 1-888-429-8167.
Mental Health 101The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Knowledge is power. This series of free online tutorials is a starting point for learning about mental health. You can come away with a greater understanding of the mental health concern you are interested in knowing more about.
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