Exposure to distressing events or disturbing experiences such as natural disaster, car accidents, childhood abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, to name a few, can bring about unwanted emotional responses like fear, helplessness, or horror. These situations are often called traumatic events. The accompanying response to these traumatic events can vary in intensity and duration. In some individuals, the experience can incite fear and stress-related symptoms that dissipate/go away over time.
Conversely, the exposure can bring about guttural (i.e., deep, harsh) long-term responses that become clinical in nature and prevent the individual from moving forward. As a result, these individuals may develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The newly revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5) details that any person who has experienced or witnessed a situation that involves a threat of death or serious injury, threat to the physical composition of another, or the witnessing, first-hand, that typically involves threat of death or injury, can develop PTSD.
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced, in the following way(s):
Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
Having some of the above reactions to a traumatic event(s) is common; however, please take note if reactions persist for more than one month or if the distress is affecting important areas of functioning (e.g., social, occupational), the distress is not better explained by physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, illicit drug use) or due to another medical condition.
Elaine R. Augustine, MA, LPC
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student