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Do I have post-traumatic stress disorder?

Robbery victim finds herself stressed out months later. Dr. Gail Saltz, “Today”  relationship editor, advises the woman to seek psychiatric counseling.
/ Source: TODAY

Dear Dr. Gail: I’ve been going through a rough time. My family was robbed at gunpoint in our home, and I am still dealing with the aftereffects, such as nightmares. Then I had a baby boy with a birth defect, who required hospitalization for two months.Even though things have settled down, I feel I am barely hanging on. I am anxious around strangers, I get upset when people knock on the door, I don’t like being alone, I have trouble sleeping, and I worry all the time. The littlest things cause me to fly off the wall, screaming and crying. This behavior scares me and my family. I went to a doctor right after we were robbed and was told it was temporary anxiety. But it has gotten worse. How can I make things better? — Worried Sick
Dear Worried: It’s understandable that right after you were robbed you would be upset in the extreme. But your symptoms have persisted and even worsened. It sounds as though you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Many people suffer acute stress after a terrible event that is above and beyond the normal human experience — a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a serious car crash or, in your case, a crime at gunpoint. The trauma for you was believing you could have lost your life.We don’t know why some people continue to suffer long-term negative effects and others spring back quickly. But we do know that if you had trauma in childhood, if you have a weak social support system, or if you suffer a string of stressful events (in your case, your baby’s hospitalization), you are at higher risk of developing PTSD.

Your symptoms — nightmares, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness — are classic. Because they have persisted and even worsened, it is unlikely they will improve on their own. It’s common to be terribly anxious after such a traumatic event, but your doctor didn’t provide sufficient follow-up. You should visit a psychiatrist for an evaluation.

There are plenty of treatments for PTSD, including psychotherapy, medication and EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In addition, such severe stress and anxiety can interfere with your ability to be a good parent. So I urge you to get treatment for your baby’s sake as well as your own.Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If terrible anxiety worsens after a traumatic event, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder. This won’t go away on its own, but can be greatly eased through treatment by a psychiatrist.