post-traumatic stress disorder

By MercyOne on Wednesday, November 10, 2021


What is PTSD? When to seek help?

We commonly associate Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with military veterans. But who else can be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder? What are the signs and symptoms? What are the options for help?

What is PTSD? 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines post-traumatic stress as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. “This is an experience that has had an impact on someone,” said Dr. Thomas Ottavi. Dr. Ottavi has spent 23 years a licensed psychologist doing youth and adult work consulting with schools and agencies where trauma effects and PTSD were significant and common issues. 

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Dr. Ottavi cares for patients in Dubuque at Medical Associates Clinic and is also a behavioral health officer in the Iowa Army National Guard. He is certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma, including PTSD.

“Having an event that’s happened, life-threatening or near life-threatening. You may experience intrusive symptoms such as flashbacks to the event or emotional reactions, anxiety... avoiding situations that may remind someone of the event. This can persist for an extended amount of time and interfere with work, school and/or relationships,” said Dr. Ottavi.

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While many may associate PTSD with combat veterans and military, the disorder can impact anyone in the general public across all ages, from children to adults. 

“Youth can have life-impacting events. There has been a lot of research into adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – exposure or experience of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, parents with mental health or substance abuse problems.  These can be very impactful for youth,” said Dr. Ottavi.

“In adulthood, natural disasters or assaults, witnessing or being around situations that can cause intense stress. These things that are part of life are going to impact people to a good degree, and sometimes to the extent that the disorder sets in and they have a lot of life impairment," said Dr. Ottavi.

When to seek help:

PTSD can be hard to self-diagnose, but some common symptoms include:

  • flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts
  • staying away from places, events and objects that are reminders of the trauma
  • being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts
  • negative thoughts, feelings of guilt or blame, loss of interest in activities

“PTSD is a combination and variety of lots of different symptoms and challenges,” said Dr. Ottavi. “I would encourage seeking out help if some of these things are going on after a major life event and you haven’t adjusted as you had hoped. A range of treatments can help address PTSD if fully present and other concerning mental health challenges from trauma.”

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Professionals can help people approach post-traumatic stress with good information about a range of treatment options through psychotherapy, counseling, and at times consulting with medication professionals.

Learn more: 

Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Ottavi to learn more about signs, symptoms and treatment for PTSD.

Additional PTSD resources: