Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem usually brought on by seeing or experiencing a traumatic event. While each case is different, it can generally be classified as one of the six common types of PTSD: normal stress response, acute stress disorder, dissociative PTSD, uncomplicated PTSD, complex PTSD or comorbid PTSD.
PTSD is surprisingly common. About 6 percent of the population will experience it during their lifetimes. That probably has to do with the fact that 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience some type of trauma.
Experiencing war or combat , sexual assault, abuse, violence , natural disasters or terrorism are some of the most common causes of PTSD. But anything that traumatizes you, ranging from a car accident to the death of a loved one, can cause it, too. It’s also more common in people with mental illness or who have problems with substance abuse.
Learn what the types of post-traumatic disorder mean, how it’s typically treated and when it’s time to see a mental health professional.
Normal stress response
Normal stress response isn’t technically PTSD. It might occur before you develop PTSD, and it’s pretty normal. Essentially, it’s how your body responds to something highly stressful. You may experience a normal stress response after surgery or a lengthy illness. It might be caused by a car accident or an extremely stressful work situation. It typically affects your immune, nervous and endocrine systems. It may even feel like one big panic attack.
How is normal stress response treated?
In most cases, normal stress response doesn’t require treatment. As long as you have a good support system in place and take care of yourself, it might last for a few weeks before you feel back to normal. In some cases, you may want to seek counseling or therapy to help.
Acute stress disorder
Technically, acute stress disorder isn’t PTSD either. It’s sort of a shorter version of the mental health condition. It’s caused by the same type of traumatic events as PTSD, such as a natural disaster, witnessing a violent event or experiencing assault or abuse. It usually occurs a few days up to a month after the experience, and symptoms are similar to those of PTSD. If left untreated, acute stress disorder may turn into PTSD. As a matter of fact, about 80 percent of people with acute stress disorder end up with PTSD.
How is acute stress disorder treated?
Many people who suffer from acute stress disorder also benefit from counseling or seeing a psychiatrist. Therapies, like group therapy, can be helpful. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications to help.
Dissociative PTSD is one of the newer types of PTSD. It’s most common in people who have multiple mental health conditions. It’s also more common in people who experience flashbacks after their traumatic experience and those who experienced trauma early in life. People with this type may feel disconnected from their thoughts and emotions. They may feel like they’re out of their bodies, watching their life like they might a movie. In general, PTSD symptoms tend to be more severe.
How is dissociative PTSD treated?
There is no specific treatment for dissociative PTSD, though there are some options that may help manage symptoms. These involve types of therapy like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure. Cognitive processing therapy helps you learn how to control your thoughts better. Prolonged exposure teaches you how to approach your thoughts rather than hide from them.
Uncomplicated PTSD is your most basic type of PTSD. A specific, identifiable event usually causes it and doesn’t usually involve other mental health issues. It’s also usually easy to treat. You may experience nightmares or flashbacks. You may become irritable or see mood changes impacting your life and relationships.
How is uncomplicated PTSD treated?
Luckily, most people with uncomplicated PTSD respond well to treatment. It typically involves therapy, medication or some combination of the two.
While uncomplicated PTSD is caused by one single issue, complex PTSD is caused by multiple traumatic events. Those events can happen close together or be spread out over many years. For example, it’s common in abuse victims as well as soldiers or medical workers, who see multiple horrific deaths. It’s also more common in people who suffer from issues like depression. If you have complex PTSD, you’re more likely to have physical symptoms. You’re also more likely to see major changes in your behavior. You may feel like you’re in pain or act aggressively. It can also lead to substance abuse or unsafe sexual behavior.
How is complex PTSD treated?
Treating complex PTSD is a bit more complicated than other types. It can also take longer. The best place to start is by finding a psychiatrist. They will work with you to come up with a plan that usually involves various therapies and medications.
If you are diagnosed with comorbid PTSD, it simply means you have PTSD along with other mental health conditions. These usually include anxiety, depression or panic disorder. It can also include substance abuse.
How is comorbid PTSD treated?
Treating comorbid PTSD can be a bit more complicated. Not only do you need PTSD treatment, but you must also treat other health conditions at the same time. Like with complex PTSD, your psychiatrist will likely help you come up with a plan specific to your needs. It may involve therapy, medication or even rehabilitation.
When it’s time to see a mental health professional
Symptoms of PTSD will vary from person to person. They typically fall into four categories:
- Changes in reactions
- Intrusive memories
- Negative changes in thinking or mood
Avoidance means doing all you can to avoid thoughts or reminders of the event. Changes in reactions might mean you’re easily startled or often feel on guard for danger. You may feel guilt or act aggressively. Intrusive memories might include nightmares or flashbacks. Negative changes in mood or thinking can range from feeling hopeless about the future to losing interest in your hobbies and relationships.
When you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may consider speaking with your primary care provider. However, if you experience any of these types of symptoms for more than a month, it’s time to see a mental health professional. You’ll also want to seek help immediately if you have suicidal thoughts, feel like your symptoms are becoming worse, or the symptoms are taking control of your life.