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Frequently asked questions

What is a traumatic event?

An event is considered traumatic if the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The person's response must have also involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction that can manifest itself after a traumatic event.

A person who develops post-traumatic stress disorder will display three types of symptoms:

  • Continually reliving the traumatic event by day or by night.
  • Avoidance - conscious or involuntary - of any trauma reminder.
  • Hyperarousal in the absence of any imminent risk.
Is it common to have a traumatic experience?

In their lifetime, nearly 90% of Americans report having experienced a traumatic event such as car accidents, physical or sexual assaults, hold-ups, being taken hostage, work-place accidents, natural disasters, etc. (Breslau et al., 1998) This proportion is generally lower in other western countries.

Is it common to develop post-traumatic event stress disorder after experiencing a traumatic event?

About 9% of people who experience a traumatic event develop post-traumatic stress disorder (Breslau et al., 1998). This figure is only indicative: the proportion varies greatly according to the type of event and the individual. Women are twice as likely to be affected (Creamer Burgess, McFarlane, 2001; Kessler et al., 1999; Breslau et al., 1991). In Canada, around 830 000 women and 370 000 currently have post-traumatic stress disorder (Stein et al., 1997).

How long do the symptoms last?

The intensity of post-traumatic stress syndrome varies greatly, as does the duration , lasting anything from several weeks to several years.

Around half of those who present symptoms will get over them by themselves within one to two years. Others will develop more chronic problems.

If you experience symptoms for 6 months or more, it is strongly recommended that you consult a therapist. You can also seek help before this if you think it might be appropriate. Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined by the presence of symptoms which exceed one month. If the symptoms persist beyond three months, it is then a classified as chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

What other problems can people develop after a traumatic experience?

Major depression is a common problem following exposure to trauma. It is characterized by a consistently depressed mood and a loss of interest in daily activities. Between 30% and 80% of those with post-traumatic stress disorder will also suffer from depression (Ducrocq et al., 2004). Other disorders that may occur include other anxiety disorders, sexual disorders, health problems (fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc.) or substance use problems (alcohol, street drugs, and prescription drugs) (Daligand, 2001).

Is it possible to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress a long time after the event?

Someone who has experienced a traumatic event can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress several months, or even years later. The development of new symptoms may be triggered by a subsequent event (anniversary of the event, retirement, etc.).

What is resilience?

Resilience is not only the absence of post-traumatic stress after a traumatic experience but also an individual's ability to take something positive from adversity (Cyrulnik, 2003). An individual may display resilience to one traumatic event whilst developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress after another (Damiani & Vaillant, 2003).

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009