What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a diagnosis derived from DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical manual for Mental Disorders), the current edition being DSM IV TR (4th edition text revision). The diagnosis of PTSD first came into being in 1980 in DSM III. It is an unusual psychological diagnosis because it requires a defining event (the traumatic event, sometimes called the 'index event'), unlike most psychological diagnoses which concentrate on current symptomatology rather than causative events.

It is regarded as an anxiety disorder stemming from serious traumatic events and characterised by a range of symptoms such as: re-experiencing the trauma memories either in the form of intrusive imagery (often wrongly termed 'flashbacks'), dissociative phenomena, bad dreams, increased reactivity both psychologically and physically to memories, or triggers of memories, associated with the trauma.

A tendency to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, activities, places and people associated with the trauma, emotional numbness, memory gaps, detachment of relationships, flat affect (mood) including 'survivor guilt', loss of interest in activities such as hobbies, a foreshortened future (often described as living life day-to-day).

Sleep disturbances (usually sleep onset and maintenance - if additionally associated with depression as well, then early morning waking), irritability and low tolerance of frustration, poor concentration, hypervigilance for potential danger, exaggerated startle response (jumpiness).

A full diagnosis of PTSD will additionally require there to have been a specific emotional response related to the trauma at the time of the traumatic event, a range of the above symptoms which last at least a month and a major disruption to at least one area of life.