Understanding the Signs of PTSD

Understanding the Signs of PTSD

When Alex’s girlfriend Jill got in a car accident last fall, their world turned upside down. After spending weeks in the hospital, Jill had to go through 5 months of daily physical therapy in order to be able to walk with ease. She was unable to work, and Alex used every spare moment outside of the office to run errands, prepare meals, and spend time with Jill.

For a few months, life was difficult, but as Jill’s health improved and she was able to start work again, things settled back into a seemingly normal routine. Dynamics, however, had shifted. Jill’s temperament was different than it had been. She continued to have difficulty sleeping and was easily irritated. Alex figured that the stress of work was causing this heightened agitation. What he hadn’t realized was that Jill was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the accident itself.

There are many misconceptions surrounding PTSD. One of the most common myths is that PTSD is a condition that only veterans face. In fact, approximately 9.2% of Canadians will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. The vast majority of people with PTSD have not been involved in a war. Other common causes of PTSD include serious road accidents, violent personal assaults, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, unexpected severe injury or death of a loved one, or a diagnosis of a life-threatening condition.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone you care about is going through a particularly stressful time, or has PTSD. The main difference is that stress is temporary. Stress can be resolved situationally and may not affect daily life significantly. PTSD, however, continues far longer than a stressful period might.

Signs of PTSD may not appear until several months, or potentially even years after the event and are characterized by three main types of symptoms, all present in Jill’s case. Unknown to Alex, Jill had been re-experiencing her trauma through distressing flashbacks and nightmares. She was often suggesting that the two of them try new restaurants in a different part of town – this was connected to the fact that she was avoiding the places and people that reminded her of the trauma. Finally, she was experiencing heightened stimulation leading to trouble concentrating and being easily angered.

Awareness of the signs allows more possibilities for meaningful intervention. If you are worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD, take a look at this self-assessment quiz. It is never too early, or too late, to reach out for help.


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