What is PTSD?

After experiencing a shocking event, people are often tense, anxious, sad and skittish. These symptoms usually go away on their own within a few weeks and most people are able to cope with the shocking event well. However, around 20% of people worldwide go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And women are twice as likely to do so as men.  

A stress reaction is useful, as it makes us try to avoid dangerous situations as much as possible. But if you react too violently and the symptoms last longer, as in PTSD, it gets in the way of a normal life. It can happen to anyone who experiences something traumatic.  

The diagnosis PTSD is made when someone:  

  • has experienced one or more traumatic and/or psychotraumatic events. These were particularly threatening or shocking events, such as a death or imminent death, a serious injury, (sexual) violence, a major disaster, or war.   
  • presents certain symptoms, such as nightmares or flashbacks, for at least a month. 

Symptoms of PTSD include:   

  • Reliving the experience: such as in dreams or by sudden memories of the event.  
  • Avoidance: of thoughts or feelings related to the event, or of places or people that remind you of it again.
  • 'Hyperarousal': alertness and vigilance, irritability, startling easily, sleeping restlessly, and poor concentration.  
  • Changed thoughts and feelings: not being able to remember parts of the event, being more bothered by feelings such as gloom, guilt, thinking more negatively about yourself, the world and/or others.  
  • The symptoms were preceded by a psychotraumatic event. 

People often have several symptoms at the same time. This is also known as comorbidity. For example, post-traumatic stress reactions often go hand in hand with anxiety disorders and depression. If there are many other psychological symptoms in addition to PTSD, we speak of complex PTSD. 

PTSD in children  

In addition to the above symptoms, children may display other reactions depending on their age:  

  • Babyhood  
    Stress reactions often manifest as eating and sleeping problems. Parents’ stress reactions can perpetuate or intensify the child's reaction.    
  • Preschool age  
    Children of this age may regress in their development (regressive behaviour). They may also have difficulty dealing with their feelings. For example, they may be more irritable, rebellious and/or hyperactive.   
  • School age  
    Some children exhibit busy and impulsive behaviour or suffer from concentration and memory problems. They may also be rebellious and angry and have difficulty controlling their emotions.   
  • Young adults  
    In young adults, we tend to see the above reactions. Young adults may also come into contact with alcohol and drugs.   

Delayed symptoms and long-term effects in children  

Some children do not develop symptoms until later, once their everyday life is safe enough. If children or young people say they are not affected by the shocking events, this may mean that they are avoiding thinking about or feeling them.   

Left untreated, post-traumatic stress reactions in childhood can also have long-term effects. Chronic stress can lead to health problems. Chronic insecurity in relationships can disrupt personality development. These developments can continue well into adulthood.  

Stress disorder treatments  

In many cases, the symptoms resulting from the shocking events go away on their own. People are resilient and have a natural gift for restoring their health. Not everyone recovers on their own, however. ARQ is there for people with severe and persistent psychotrauma symptoms such as PTSD. 

A general practitioner (or occupational physician) can advise you on the right help. They can weigh up the various options with you and, if necessary, refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. In addition to possible medication, there are various treatments that can help resolve your symptoms, such as:  

  • EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing 
  • BEPP: Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy for PTSD
  • NET: Narrative Exposure Therapy 
  • IE: Imaginary Exposure  

On average, treatments for PTSD take between 8 to 25 weeks. The aim of the treatments is to change how you feel about the memories. The treatments help to reduce anxiety and to give you more positive feelings, behaviour, and thoughts. Even if you have had symptoms of PTSD for many months or years, treatment can be very helpful.  

Self-test for suspected psychotrauma  

Do you want to know if you or someone close to you needs help? Take our self-test MIRROR after traumatic events. This test will give you insight into the situation and personal advice.