People respond to traumatic events differently. Most people overcome these events without the need for professional intervention. It is "normal" to feel anxious, angry, fearful, or sadness immediately after the event.
Most symptoms resolve spontaneously after a couple of days. Those that persist and/or worsen after a couple of days may indicate a more serious problem. Most serious problems are clinically called "stress disorders (formally called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder)." If this is a concern, contacting a trained mental health professional for assessment is paramount.
No. The traumatic event must involve actual or threatened death, or serious physical harm (i.e., classically rape, natural disasters, military combat) out of the ordinary human experience. It can also occur from witnessing such an event. In addition the victim must experience intense fear, horror, and/or hopelessness.
Depending on the severity of the traumatic event, anywhere from one quarter to one half of those exposed to a traumatic event may develop psychological problems. These include:
Feelings of distress, anger, guilt, etc., can develop at any time and are normal within days of the traumatic event. More severe and /or persistent symptoms can occur weeks or months after the event.
Yes. About one-half of those suffering from stress disorders abuse drugs and /or alcohol. This is likely a means to avoid reminders of the trauma and to cope with the symptoms associated with the trauma. Other common conditions include clinical depression or other anxiety problems (i.e. someone witnessing the devastation of a massive tornado may develop fears of storms, lightening, or other reminders of the tornado).
For minor cases, support and understanding from family and friends may be sufficient. Professional support groups are also effective for victims. Family and friends, and others providing support may also benefit from these groups. More serious cases require assessment by trained mental health professionals. Other possible interventions include medications, individual therapy, and in extreme cases hospitalization. Problems with drug and alcohol addiction should be treated proactively as well.
Yes. Most people recover completely spontaneously (or with minor interventions mentioned above). Even for more severe cases, most people recover to lead productive lives. More severe cases may require longer periods of treatment. Setbacks may occur if treatment is delayed. Therefore it is critical to have proper assessment and intervention as soon as symptoms develop.
Back to the top
Back to the top
Illinois Department of Human ServicesJB Pritzker, Governor · Grace B. Hou, Secretary
IDHS Office Locator
IDHS Help Line
© 2020 Illinois Department of Human Services