PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event. Most people experience stressful events, but when the event is exceptionally stressful it may be called trauma or a traumatic experience. Certain events— such as a home lost in a fire or even a community in the midst of a flood, a terrible injury in a car wreck, or the loss of family members in a plane crash—are traumatic for most people. The threat of serious injury to yourself or loved ones can also be traumatic. What usually makes an experience traumatic is a sense of horror, utter helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of physical injury or death. In some instances, the survivor of trauma may witness a horrifying event rather than being directly injured or threatened with injury.
The following experiences are commonly recognized by mental health professionals as traumatic:
- rape or sexual assault
- spouse abuse
- crime victimization, including mugging, assault, robbery, shooting
- children victimized by physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
- natural disasters, such as fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes
- war-related experiences, especially combat
- serious injury situations, such as airplane or automobile crashes
Research has shown that the best predictor of whether a person will suffer problems after the trauma is how severe the incident was—that is, how horrifying or threatening it was. No one is immune from developing emotional or psychological problems after a trauma. Whether or not a person begins to have problems after a trauma partly depends upon the individual’s psychological health prior to the event, other stressors in the survivor’s life, the age of the survivor (the young and the elderly may be more at risk), and the support the individual has from friends, loved ones, and the community.
A publication from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive TherapiesDownload