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Resource Library Glossary

Key Definitions

The following are definitions associated with mental health care. Information sources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, an accident or a natural disaster, can have long-lasting negative effects. Sometimes our biological responses and instincts, which can be life-saving during a crisis, leave people with ongoing psychological symptoms because they are not integrated into consciousness.

Because the body is busy increasing the heart rate, pumping blood to muscles for movement and preparing the body to fight off infection and bleeding in case of a wound, all bodily resources and energy become focused on physically getting out of harm’s way. This resulting damage to the brain’s response system is called posttraumatic stress response or disorder, also known as PTSD.

PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 7.7 million Americans—but women are more likely to develop the condition than men. About 37% of those cases are classified as severe. While PTSD can occur at any age, the average age of onset is in a person’s early 20s.

Symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder.

The symptoms of PTSD fall into the following categories.

  • Intrusive Memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and scary thoughts.
  • Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or have trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (de-realization).
  • Hypervigilance, which can include being startled very easily, feeling tense, having trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.

PTSD is treated and managed in several ways:

  • Medications, including mood stabilizers, anti-psychotic medications and anti-depressants.
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy.
  • Self-management strategies, such as "self-soothing.” Many therapy techniques, including mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring him/her back to reality after a dissociative episode or a flashback.
  • Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD.

Learn more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder

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