After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. In particular, survivors of sexual violence may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While it is natural to have some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, if they last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, it might be PTSD. If left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can grow worse and last for months or even years.i
As classified by the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into three main categoriesii:
This is a repeated reliving of the event, and interferes with daily activity. This category includes flashbacks, frightening thoughts, recurrent memories or dreams, and physical reactions to situations that remind you of the event.
These symptoms stem from the desire of a person to change their routine to escape similar situations to the trauma. Victims might avoid places, events, or objects that remind them of the experience. Emotions related to avoidance are numbness, guilt, and depression. Some have a decreased ability to feel certain emotions, like happiness. They also might be unable to remember major parts of the trauma, and feel that their future offers less possibilities than other people have.
Hyper-arousal symptoms are all physiological. They include difficulty concentrating or falling asleep; being easily startled; feeling tense, and ‘on edge’; and angry outbursts. These can sum up to make it difficult for victims of PTSD to complete normal daily tasks.
Children and teens may experience different symptoms from adults, which may includeiii:
- Inability to talk
- Acting out the assault during playtime
- Being unusually clingy with a parent or other trusted adult
Diagnosis is best left in the hands of a medical professionaliv. Coming to a conclusion of PTSD usually occurs because of the presence of the symptoms listed above, the duration of those symptoms, as well as psychiatric and physical testing to rule out other diagnoses.
Getting treatment as soon as possible after PTSD symptoms develop maybe prevent the disorder from becoming a long-term condition. It is important to be treated by a medical professional with knowledge of PTSD.
There are a range of treatment options for patients suffering from PTSD. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. The type of therapy that may be best for a patient depends on a number of factors that s/he and the health care professional can discuss. Experts at the Mayo Clinic, outline the following treatments for PTSD, which may be used in combinationv:
- Cognitive therapy
This form of “talk therapy” helps patients to identify and change self-destructive thought patterns.
- Cognitive behavior therapy
CBT combines cognitive and behavioral therapy to help patients identify unhealthy beliefs/behaviors, and replace them with positive ones.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movement that help patients process traumatic memories.
- Exposure therapy
This form of behavioral therapy helps patients safely confront the memories or things that are upsetting or distributing, so that they can learn to cope effectively.
Several types of medications can help symptoms of PTSD such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, concentration.
- Support Groups
In addition to receiving professional help, it’s important for persons with PTSD to take good care of themselves:
- Sleep between 6-7 hours every night; try to go to bed at the same time every night
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid making situations that could cause anxiety, anger or irritability
- Avoid alcohol, illegal drugs, and medication not prescribed
For Additional Help
If you know or suspect someone is suffering from PTSD:
- Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
- Learn about PTSD, including available recovery resources and treatments.
- Remember that with time and treatment, victims of PTSD can see improved symptoms and effective management of the disorder.
National Sexual Assault Hotline
i“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” Mayo Clinic, 2009:
ii “What are the symptoms of PTSD?” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2009:
iii Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). National Institute of Mental Health. 2009.
iv “What are the symptoms of PTSD?” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2009:
v“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Treatments and drugs,” April 10, 2009:
This product was supported by grant number 2009-D1-BX-K023 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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