Acute Stress Disorder occurs in someone after the impact of trauma. The trauma can be directly experienced or witnessed. Acute stress disorder can even occur in someone where traumatic events that happened to someone else close to them are merely related to them. In some cases, acute stress disorder can occur. It is also a disorder that can occur in first-responders to violent traumas, such as police, ambulance crews or those sent to collect dead bodies.

Types of symptoms include the following:

  • Intrusive symptoms such as distressing memories, distressing dreams or more dissociative reactions where the person actually believes that they are re-experiencing the trauma, or marked, persistent psychological distress or physiological symptoms.
  • A negative mood that tends to include an inability to experience positive or loving feelings.
  • Dissociative symptoms such as an inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma or sense of derealization or depersonalization.
  • Avoidant symptoms that include things like avoidance of distressing thoughts, feelings or memories, or avoidance of external situations (people, places etcetera) that might remind the person of the trauma.
  • Hyperarousal symptoms occur due to a heightened physiological arousal (fight or flight type reaction) that follows a trauma. These can include a wide range of symptoms such as irritability and aggression, insomnia, exaggerated startlement responses, problems with attention/concentration, or hypervigilance which is a heightened sense of and looking out for things that might endanger the individual or their loved ones.

Symptoms need to have lasted from 3 days to a month to meet the diagnostic criteria for Acute Stress Disorder.

Acute Stress Disorder tends to respond very well to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Acute Stress Disorder is a Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) condition in South Africa, which means that if you are on a medical aid then (and irrespective of the quality of your medical aid plan) they need to grant you up to 12 outpatient psychotherapy sessions (at their normal rate).

How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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