Traumatic Stress Disorders: ASD and PTSD

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Not everyone who endures a traumatic event, or is exposed to one, will develop long-lasting, debilitating symptoms. Many survivors will not develop any related disorders, even though they may suffer from related trauma symptoms - including nightmares, fear, hyper-vigilance, and despair. But, many survivors will face serious traumatic reactions, so it's important to understand how to minimize and manage the effects of trauma.

How real is the risk of trauma for aid workers? According to Headington Institute, most of us will endure at least one "seriously frightening or disturbing" incident in our humanitarian careers, and 1 of every 4 of us working in complex humanitarian emergencies will confront a life-threatening experience. Indeed, we've all heard stories of incidents affecting our colleagues, our friends and, in the case of many of us, ourselves. So, we know traumatic/critical incidents are not reserved to Hollywood films. They're bound to happen to some of us.

While we cannot easily control when or where a traumatic/critical incident will strike, we can control how well prepared we are for it in order to minimize the potential side effects.

If we understand the reality of traumatic incidents and of trauma before an incident takes place, we tend to come out with lower levels of traumatic symptoms. If we are better equipped to recognize trauma symptoms and ways to treat it, we can reduce our symptoms more quickly and increase our chances of eventually living trauma-free.

So, learn about trauma now, so you can better help yourself and those in your life should a traumatic incident occur.


If you are involved in a traumatic incident, you may experience a range of symptoms – from general stress to pathological stress disorders.

Stress disorders range from an Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), resolved within 1 month, to the most severe and chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which sets in 1 month or more after the incident and can persist for months or years or may come and go throughout a lifetime.

If you or your colleague experiences a traumatic/critical incident, will you be able to recognize the symptoms of trauma?

Recognizing the classic symptoms of ASD and PTSD can help ensure your quick and appropriate post-traumatic care.

The classic symptoms fall into 3 categories:

1. Hyper-arousal

2. Intrusions

3. Constriction

PTSD typically also includes:

  • self-destructive or impulsive behavior
  • survivor's guilt
  • physical pains, aches or discomfort
  • strained interpersonal relationships
  • difficulty controlling feelings
  • shame
  • social withdrawal
  • personality changes
  • depression
  • mood swings

PTSD is one of the only psychiatric disorders believed to be caused by EXTERNAL events. Depending on the onset and duration of symptoms, one may experience any of three different types of PTSD.

3 Key Types of PTSD:

Acute PTSD

Chronic PTSD

Delayed Onset PTSD

Once PTSD symptoms set in, the symptoms may persist or come and go for the remainder of life.
You may think you're "crazy", unworthy of love and "never safe". YOU ARE NOT ALONE! We understand. We've been there too . . .

If you become traumatized, you may notice overwhelming symptoms, as outlined above, and side effects that may adversely impact your personal and professional lives. But, you may not understand why you are experiencing such symptoms and side effects.

You may wrongly interpret the symptoms you experience as signs that you are “never safe”, that you are “worthless”, “unlovable”, or "crazy". It's important to remember that you are perfectly normal, exceptionally lovable, and on your way to feeling safe again.

It's important to recognize that you are responding NORMALLY. To help reduce your symptoms and return to a healthier, renewed you, it's essential to speak with a qualified mental health practitioner.



ASD arises after a traumatic event. Although ASD symptoms are similar to PTSD symptoms, PTSD cannot be diagnosed until the victim of a traumatic incident has experienced traumatic symptoms for more than 1 month.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have endured or witnessed a traumatic event and have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • at least 1 symptom that is re-experienced
  • at least 3 avoidance symptoms
  • at least 2 hyper-arousal symptoms
  • symptoms that hinder daily life (school/work, social interactions with friends/others, completing important tasks).

Just as not every person who experiences a traumatic event will experience a stress disorder, not everyone who suffers from ASD will end up with PTSD. However, research suggests that most people who have ASD eventually suffer from PTSD as well.

It is also possible for PTSD to set in immediately after the first month of symptoms, or for a person to have ASD and seem fine until, years later, PTSD symptoms suddenly set in.