Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I was recently carjacked and want to know how I can deal with the nightmares and fear that I have felt since it happened.

While it really won't make those fears and nightmares go away any faster, many people find it comforting to know that this is a perfectly normal reaction to a terrifying situation.

The thoughts of many victims of trauma are focused re-living on the event. This may take in the form of recurring daytime thoughts, intrusive images of the event, or feelings associated with it. Dreams or nightmares of the event continue on at night. Other common reactions include insomnia, decreased ablility to concentrate, excessive worry and concern for one's surroundings, being easily startled. Even though these fears are normal, it does not mean that a woman should suffer through them without seeking any sort of help if she desires it. Generally, victims of a crime are referred to a counselor who can offer support.

If symptoms last more than a month, the woman may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To be diagnosed as having PTSD, there must have been a serious threat to the victim, in her opinion. Her response must be one of terror and/or helplessness. She must be re-experiencing the trauma in some way--by recurring thoughts, "flashbacks", dreams, feelings, physical responses, etc. She must want to avoid reminders of the event. She must feel anxious in some way.

While the condition is commonly associated with shell-shocked war veterans, it is surprisingly prevalent among the general population as well. One study, in large metropolitan area, found about 11% of all women suffer from the condition, which may arise from any sort of causes, including rape, mugging, natural disasters and accidents.

Women have a higher rate of PTSD than men, when exposed to traumatic situations. Men are diagnosed at a rate of 19% and women at the rate 31% after a traumatic event. It is unclear why the gender gap is present. Some psychiatrists have suggested that the difference is due to women experiencing PSTD due to the trauma of loved ones, and it reflects women's tendency to be more connected in personal relationships. With many psychiatric problems, women simply seek treatment more than men, so perhaps the true incidence is the same. Women as a group may experience more severe or multiple trauma due to traumas like rape or domestic violence. Women have been shown to ruminate more on their problems, whereas men will tend to distract themselves with an activity. This leads to more depression in women. Maybe it leads to more problems with post-traumatic coping? People who feel like their actions matter during the crisis and that they can do something to improve their chances of survival are less likely to experience PSTD. Maybe women's socialization as more passive is a factor in this gender difference. Or maybe our smaller physical size really does give us fewer ways to be pro-active in some crisis? When women do have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, their symptoms may worsen pre-menstrually.

PSTD can be treated. Usually, psychotherapy (talking to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional) is the cornerstone of treatment. Sometimes medications will be added to treat specific associated problems like depression, insomnia, or anxiety. Someone who is experiencing these post-traumatic problems, it is best for her to go for an evaluation. She can get the help she needs, instead of reliving the situation over and over.

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