The Link Between Depression & Other Mental Illness (cont.)

Affecting more than 5 million Americans each year, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs as the result of exposure to situations and events where severe physical harm either occurred or was threatened. This may include experiencing or witnessing war situations, natural disasters, rape, mugging, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Symptoms of PTSD are often triggered by an object or event that reminds the person of the trauma. The person may then re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or terrorizing thoughts. These, in turn, can produce symptoms such as emotional numbness, sleep disturbances, irritability, feelings of intense guilt, and an excessive startle reaction to loud noise. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last for more than one month.

PTSD can begin at any age and generally begins to show up within three months after experiencing a trauma, although this is not always the case. Like other anxieties, severity and duration of the symptoms vary with each individual, and other illnesses and disorders may occur along with PTSD. For example, almost 50% of people with PTSD also experience depression. Substance abuse, headache, stomach and immune system problems, chest pain, and dizziness are also common, co-occurring conditions.


For all of the aforementioned psychiatric illnesses and disorders, treatment can be very successful. For anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, social phobia, and panic disorder, antidepressant medicines and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are most commonly used. As a person undergoes cognitive behavioral therapy, he or she is taught how to identify thinking patterns that may lead to anxiety attacks. Since many of these thinking patterns are deeply ingrained, practice is often needed to notice and change them. This form of therapy also teaches patients how to calm themselves during an attack, and to "desensitize" themselves to feelings of unease or terror. For posttraumatic stress disorder, group therapy and exposure therapy are also useful.


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