Mental illness is not always something that you are born with or that is genetic. There are also mental illnesses that are caused by traumatic or stressful experiences, known as trauma and stress-related disorders. The defining characteristic of trauma- and stress-related disorders is having previous exposure to an event that was traumatic or stressful, and the most common and well-known is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Trauma or stress can come about after encountering violence or abuse, witnessing violence or being in an accident. It can also come from childhood negligence, the death of a loved one, and many more circumstances that depend on the individual. Many trauma and stress-related disorders can prevent you from living a healthy life. From having flashbacks to the traumatic event to not being able to sleep without having nightmares, these types of disorders can hinder how you live your life. If left untreated, you are putting yourself at risk of never recovering from the traumatic or stressful event.
Acute Stress Disorder
Most people may have heard about PTSD but its predecessor, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), may not be as well-known. ASD is a mental disorder that usually occurs between three and 30 days following exposure to a traumatic or stressful event. If you still have symptoms after the one-month mark, you will be likely diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the symptoms of ASD overlap with those of PTSD, but there is one main difference: You cannot be given a diagnosis for PTSD until your symptoms have lasted for at least one month. Also, a person with ASD is more likely to have feelings such as not knowing where they are, and feeling as if they are outside of their body. Those with PTSD will not have these symptoms. There are also symptoms that are specific to only PTSD, such as having negative thoughts about the world and becoming withdrawn from the world around you.
While it is common for individuals to experience ASD right after a traumatic event, the chance of getting ASD depends on the type of trauma you encounter. Survivors of violence, such as assaults, mass shootings, and robbery show higher rates of getting ASD than survivors of natural disasters and accidents. So, who is likely to get ASD? Several factors will place you at a higher risk of getting ASD after a trauma. These include:
- If you have gone through previous traumatic events
- If you have previously had PTSD
- If you have had prior mental health problems
- When confronted with trauma, you have had the symptoms such as not knowing where you are and who you are
Not everyone who gets ASD will develop PTSD, though the chances are high that you will develop PTSD within six months of the traumatic or stressful event. However, there is a chance that you will develop PTSD after the six-month window.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a disorder that most people experience after exposure to a scary, shocking, dangerous or traumatic event in which they are faced with intense physical harm or they felt that their life was threatened. Examples of traumatic events that may be triggers for PTSD include natural or human disasters, violent personal assault, military combat or any kind of traumatic and stressful accident. But a person can also be diagnosed with PTSD after the sudden and unexpected death of someone close to them.
While it is common for a person to feel afraid during and after they are exposed to a traumatic or stressful situation, most people can recover from the initial shock of the ordeal on their own without seeking mental health. For those people who continue to show signs of PTSD, such as flashbacks to the trauma, bad dreams and fearful thoughts, a medical professional as having PTSD may diagnose them. People who have PTSD may feel frightened or stressed even if they are not in a dangerous situation, and the constant fear may make daily activities, like going to work, school or caring for a family, impossible to perform. However, not everyone who is diagnosed with PSTD went through a dangerous or threatening event.
Those who are diagnosed with an adjustment disorder may show signs of hopelessness or sadness, twitching or trembling, crying, and even being withdrawn from people in their life. A person who suffers from adjustment disorder may start to show signs immediately after they have gone through a stressful event. These symptoms are a result of a person having a hard time coping and recovering from a stressful life event, and in turn, they have an abnormal response to the type of event that they have experienced. If a person is struggling to adjust back to their normal life and their emotions and behaviors are now impacting their relationships and other areas of their life, they may be diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder can come at any age and is the result of many situations, such as a death of a family member, contracting a severe illness, divorce, worries about money, moving to a new house or a new town, or any general life changes. Typically, most people can adjust back within a few months of the event.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
RAD is a rare disorder that develops when infants or young children do not establish healthy attachments with either their parents or caregivers. If a child’s basic needs are not met, and a loving, stable, caring attachments with people has not been established, they may develop RAD. Causes for RAD is typically caused by neglect or abuse of an infant or young child for crucial needs such as:
- Physical safety
- Emotional bonds with a parent or caretaker
It is common for a child to be neglected when a caretaker lacks parenting skills or they are intellectually disabled. Additionally, if the parents are isolated or extremely young when they become parents and have no support, this can lead to a lack of understanding on how to raise a child. If a child is subjected to a frequent change in caregivers, such as in foster care or orphanages, they are at a higher risk of developing RAD.
If you or a loved one is suffering form a traumatic and stress-related disorder, it is critical for them to get the help that they need to return to their healthy lives.