Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Content warning: This page contains information about relationship and sexual violence.

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Email rsvpcenter@wustl.edu or call 314-935-3445 (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)

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There are many emotional responses to traumatic events, all of which are normal and appropriate. Some survivors experience resolution fairly quickly after a traumatic event. However, many survivors experience trauma-related problems and feelings for a significant amount of time after a sexual assault.

Some survivors experience post-traumatic stress disorder or acute trauma syndrome, marked by feelings of fear and helplessness, avoidance of traumatic memories, and intrusive memories of the event after it has occurred. Others experience rape trauma syndrome, which conceptualizes trauma recovery in a series of stages, each with its own symptoms, coping mechanisms and needs.

While this description may help you understand what you are going through, it is important to remember that every survivors’ experience is different, and whatever you are experiencing is valid and normal.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Recent studies have shown that about one-third of all rape survivors will develop Rape-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. PTSD is not a rare or unusual occurrence; in fact, many people experience PTSD as a result of a traumatic experience such as rape or sexual assault. Other survivors of sexual assault may experience Acute Trauma Syndrome or ATS. This contains many similar symptoms of PTSD, but resolves within four weeks, when the survivor’s life begins to return to normal.


Symptoms of PTSD

You may be experiencing PTSD or ATS if, following an event where you experience or were confronted with actual or threatened injury or a threat to your physical integrity,  you  experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of intense horror, helplessness or fear, even after the event had passed
  • Distressing, intrusive memories of the event (e.g., flashbacks, including nightmares), often without provocation or obvious trigger
  • Regularly avoiding things or triggers that remind you of the event (e.g., people, places, things, etc.)
  • Significant impairment or distress due to the event Increased arousal (e.g., sleep difficulties, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, and exaggerated startle response, or irritability or outbursts of anger/rage)
  • Experienced these symptoms for at least a month. (PTSD only)

Many people with PTSD or ATS have found that speaking with a trained counselor or therapist has helped to alleviate their symptoms. If you believe you might have PTSD, please consider making an appointment with Mental Health Services. You can make an appointment by calling 314-935-6666, option 2 for your first (intake) session. Subsequent sessions can be scheduled online. Your first eight mental health sessions, plus the intake, are free.

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