Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders

Trauma and stressor-related disorders are a category of psychiatric disorders that develop after a stressful or traumatic experience, such as childhood neglect, physical/sexual abuse, combat, physical assault, sexual assault, major disaster, accident, or torture.

In the past, trauma and stressor-related disorders were classified as anxiety disorders. However, they are currently considered separate because many patients exhibit symptoms of anhedonia or dysphoria, hostility, violence, or detachment as opposed to anxiety.

Types of Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders

The most common forms of trauma and stressor-related disorders include:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war, or rape, or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury. PTSD has been recognized by various terms in the past, including “shell shock” during World War I and “battle exhaustion” following World War II. However, PTSD is not limited to combat veterans. In fact, PTSD can affect individuals of any age, ethnicity, nationality, or culture. Approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults have PTSD each year, and approximately 1 in 11 will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. PTSD is twice as common in women as in men.

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder – is a brief period of intrusive memories that occurs within four weeks of witnessing or experiencing a terrifyingly stressful event. People with acute stress disorder have either experienced a traumatic incident directly or indirectly (witnessing events happening to others or learning of events that occurred to close family members or friends). People with acute stress disorder have persistent memories of the traumatic event, avoid stimuli that remind them of the event, and have elevated arousal. Unlike posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms occur within four weeks of the distressing incident and last a minimum of three days but no longer than one month. Those affected by this disorder may exhibit dissociative symptoms.

Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment Disorders – Adjustment disorders are characterized by the manifestation of intense emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a specific stressor, like problems at work or going off to college. Symptoms of adjustment disorder appear within three months of a stressful incident and do not last more than six months. A single incident or numerous events may induce this stressor. Adjustment disorders are prevalent among those undergoing outpatient mental care, accounting for 5 to 20 % of patients.

When there is insufficient information to make a precise diagnosis, a diagnosis of unspecified trauma and stressor-related disorder may be made. It can be used to characterize symptoms linked with trauma disorders that produce distress and impairment but do not fulfill the complete diagnostic criteria.

Signs and Symptoms

All forms of trauma and stressor-related disorders share four common sets of symptoms:

  • Intrusion symptoms – Recurrent, involuntary, and upsetting recollections, thoughts, and dreams of the traumatic incident are examples of intrusion symptoms. Flashbacks, a dissociative experience in which the individual feels or acts as though the traumatic incident is reoccurring, may also occur.
  • Avoidance symptoms – To alleviate their distress, trauma survivors may exhibit avoidance symptoms, which involve avoiding internal (memories, thoughts, and feelings) and external (people, places, and events) triggers. A person’s life can become consumed by an obsession with avoiding triggers associated with their traumatic experience.
  • Negative alterations – Disturbances in memory of crucial details of the traumatic incident, emotions of despair, anxiety, dread, guilt, humiliation, and social withdrawal are all negative changes in cognition and mood.
  • Hyper-arousal symptoms – It’s common for people with hyper-arousal to exhibit symptoms like irritability, emotional outbursts, self-destructive conduct, difficulty focusing, and trouble sleeping, to name a few.

Although a trigger event is required to confirm a diagnosis, trauma and stressor-related disorders frequently show similarities to other psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Because trauma and stressor-related disorders share many common characteristics, it is crucial to comprehend the nature of the trigger, the temporal link between the trigger and the onset of symptoms, and the severity of symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes intrusion symptoms, negative mood, and dissociative, avoidance, and arousal symptoms as diagnostic criteria for trauma and stressor-related disorders. Treatment of trauma and stressor-related disorders usually necessitates using both pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy. Consult your doctor or a mental health professional to determine the best treatment option for you.

Most people respond well to psychotherapy and/or medications for trauma and stress-related disorders. Evidence-based modalities utilized at Turning Point include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) when clinically indicated.
  • Trauma-informed Care
  • Meditation / Mindfulness
  • Life Skills & Self-Care
  • Music therapy

Turning Point Centers provide adults with the highest quality mental health care. Our compassionate clinicians offer individualized care to those battling mental health conditions through residential treatment, day treatment (PHP), and intensive outpatient programs.

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