What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

ABC News reported George Zimmerman, the Florida man acquitted of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin, says he lives in constant fear and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Martin, 17, after Zimmerman testified that the teenager knocked him down, banged his head on the concrete sidewalk, and then tried to grab Zimmerman’s gun.

Zimmerman, 30, told Univision that he lives in a constant state of fear, needing bodyguards and bullet-proof vests, and that he suffers from PTSD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it’s natural to feel afraid when in danger. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in posttraumatic stress disorder, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. Little wonder why several veterans experience this condition.

The NIMH groups PTSD symptoms into three separate categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Flashbacks-reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Symptoms may sometimes be delayed. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.

Source: //www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml