Coping with Stress Disorder

During her first session Helen was crying uncontrollably while reporting that she had been depressed for the last few months. She was barely able to get out of bed to take care of her 3 year old son. Her husband worked very long hours and he couldn’t contribute much to the house-hold work or take care of their son. She said she didn’t know how long she could go on like this without losing her mind and the understanding of her husband. Moreover, her son was exhibiting symptoms of distress by crying more often than usual, and she was attributing this to her negligent behavior towards him.

Helen believed that her extreme sadness started right after her apartment had been burgled. Since then she had also been having recurring dreams involving the threat of death. She became easily startled and felt emotionally numb towards her husband and son. She also experienced intrusive, repeated, distressing images of her dead sister while she was awake.

At this point into the session Helen reported that she avoided visiting her country of origin because her sister was murdered there two years ago while Helen was visiting.

It was obvious that Helen was depressed but it turned out that her principle diagnosis was Post-Traumatic-Stress -Disorder (PTSD) caused by the violent death of her sister. PTSD is a trauma related type of anxiety disorder that may occur soon after a major trauma or it can be delayed for more than six months or much longer after the event.

Not everyone experiences PTSD following a stressful event. Mostly those affected are neuro-biologically predisposed to it. Moreover, having been exposed to trauma in the past may increase the risk of PTSD.

PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). Therefore medications such as anti-depressants can be helpful. Psychotherapeutic treatment aims to reduce symptoms by encouraging the patient to recall the event repeatedly and in as great detail as possible. Expressing grief in therapy also helps complete the necessary mourning process. Support groups, where people who have had similar experiences can share their feelings, can be helpful too.

The disorder can occur at any age and can follow a natural disaster, war, assault, domestic abuse, rape, murder, terrorist attacks, etc. One doesn’t have to be the direct recipient of the disaster – PTSD may also arise in those who have lost relatives and friends to a disastrous event.

An early development of the symptoms after the trauma and a prompt diagnosis and treatment carry the the best prognosis for successful treatment..