Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is characterized by negative symptoms and behaviors surrounding a traumatic event or events. Not all traumatic experiences lead to PTSD, and not all PTSD is chronic. The lifetime prevalence rate is about 8.7%, with 3.5% of Americans dealing with PTSD per year. Exposure to trauma can be direct or indirect, like sexual assault or the death of a loved one. Afterward, a number of symptoms occur: one or more symptoms of intrusion, where the trauma is re-experienced. One or more symptoms of avoidance, where anything related to the trauma is avoided. Two or more symptoms of negative alterations in mood or cognition, where beliefs surrounding the event or self are skewed. Finally, two or more alterations in arousal and reactivity, where the body reacts to stimuli in a different way than before the trauma. These symptoms must last for at least one month, cause clinically significant distress, and are not attributable to any other condition. Treatment consists of medication and psychotherapy. Medication is usually an antidepressant, though there is a medication used for treating sleep problems and nightmares. Cognitive behavioral therapy works to restructure thoughts surrounding the trauma, creating healthier responses to the event and reminders, and dealing with guilt or shame surrounding the event. Unlike some other mental illnesses, it is possible to recover from PTSD completely.
PTSD can be overwhelming. For a college student, this can mean a variety of things. Concentration is inhibited, making it difficult to complete assignments or study for exams. Depending on the trauma, certain normal college situations may be triggering to the individual. Students with PTSD can be self-destructive in a number of ways, including not going to class and alcohol or drug abuse. Many people with PTSD also have other mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. These problems simply compound the issue. Students with PTSD may need accommodations specific to reducing stress and anxiety, like more time for assignments or exams. Treatment is also essential to this process. Students with PTSD can and do succeed in college, they just need the right support in order to cope with their trauma and reduce its effects on their ability to function.